1: Make it about yourself instead of them.
For the vast majority of people I speak to about any kind of grief journey, the first thing they mention is how lonely it is. They also speak of the treasured few who we there, right by their side. But they often carry a deep pain from all the people who let them down. I get that. It is my experience too. So our need to be heard and validated is very real. So why is it that so many who have walked that journey see someone else on that road and think “Oh, thank goodness you get it … here is MY story”?
But still, their grief journey is not about you. It is still about them. You may have a lot to offer and ways to make their journey better than yours was, but please don’t make it all about you.
Comments that begin with “When I ….” or “For me…” are perhaps signs that you have made it about you instead of them?
2: Hurry them to the next step.
Grief journeys suck. They are awful paths to walk, and they hurt. But in lesser ways, they are awful things to watch too. Friends and family hate watching people struggle through step after step, after step, of a grief journey (often on a journey of their own), and it makes them feel uncomfortable, powerless, and frustrated. It is so easy to want them to come out the other end faster, it makes sense to want them to heal, or to learn all that you have learnt. But we need to remember that because it is a process and a deeply painful one that is not as linear as some people make out, it can’t be rushed. Rushing them disempowers them.
One of my biggest struggles, second only to how many friends I lost, and how rude people were, was around the space of those who knew better, those who have been down grief journey’s themselves, who pushed and shoved me to get through the other end quickly.
Comments that begin with “It’s time to…” or “why can’t you hurry up and get on with it…” can leave someone feeling pushed or hurried.
3: Forget what it was like to be where they are.
Because much of a grief journey can be lost in a blur or forgotten in a strange time warp that protects us from the reality of so much time “away” from “normal” life, it is so easy to forget that it was a very long journey that we took ourselves. It may feel like forever ago that we were the carefree person of “before”. But the grief journey we took often feels in hindsight, to have been quite a fast one.
I can assure it wasn’t. It was slow and ugly and painful and hard for everyone. And when others walk it, we mustn’t expect them to “do” their journey any differently. This is the bit where we need to meet them at their point of need, validate the stage they are in, and hold their hands as they navigate their way through.
Comments that begin with “That’s not healthy to….” or “You need to…” or “I never did that..” are perhaps signs that you’ve forgotten what it was like to be in the middle of the fog yourself.
4: Comparing notes of any kind.
Who’s grief is worst? longest? Who’s issue was harder? Does a death trump an illness? Does a child trump an uncle? Who coped better or got better quicker? It blows me away that so many people diminish and invalidate a grief journey because it wasn’t quite as bad as their own.
Comments that begin with “Well at least you….” or “There is always someone worse off…” can leave people feeling as though you are comparing their journey to yours.
5: See it as stealing from our own journey.
It is so easy to believe that it is some kind of competition. Sometimes I see people behaving as though there is only so much compassion in the world and if they see someone getting any then they try to grab some for themselves. And it comes out looking like some people see it as a competition. It blows me away and leaves me feeling very sad.
But I decided that this behaviour isn’t about winning as such, it is more a fear of invalidation. Those who don’t feel their grief validated sometimes try to squash the validation given to others.
Comments that begin with “That’s nothing…” or “yes but MY stuff on the other hand…” can come across to those listening that you are trying to steal their compassion for yourself.
It’s hard to look back on our own journeys, and for good reason, as there was so much pain. But remember what it was like to just need someone to sit with us, mourn with us, just silently validate the place we were in? We now have the opportunity to be that person for someone else…