We have all grappled with what to say to a grieving person at one time or another in our lives. Then the unthinkable happened and we became the griever. Today there are responses from survivors that tell some of the things that people have said to them that made the grieving time much tougher. However, most of them also included what could have been said to help. As you will notice, most of the positives are just asking people to be there. For so many of us, we need to go over the details of the death countless times in order to heal. To have a friend or relative who can just sit and listen is a gift and that is what we do at TAPS. Through our 800 number, peer mentors, the TAPS magazine, the Saturday message, and many other services, we are here to listen and support you in any way that we can include just listening.
I want to thank those who wrote in this week as I am sure that anyone reading this message will see themselves in the posts. Each week the question is different. When you find one that you feel you can answer, please send the answer along to me. There are other survivors who just send a reply and tell me what is on their minds that is not to be sent to the general group and that is perfectly OK as well. I hope you find the responses beneficial. Please know that I do have several questions for future messages waiting, but send any query that you might have to email@example.com and I will add it to the list. It can be helpful to hear what other survivors think.
The question for next week came from Rebecca who asked: I’d like to know what other survivors do in memory of their loved ones now in Heaven's Military.
Reponses to what to say or NOT to say to a grieving person:
A few days after Lou was killed, a friend said "God always takes the best and brightest." Others told me I'm lucky to have other children. Another dope said he had officers he would have liked to kill. I darn near killed him on the spot. He was slightly intoxicated and I just told him not to speak to me ever again.
After seven years the stupid remarks still hurt. That being said, except for the dope's comment, I probably thought similar things before my loss, so I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and don't react to them.
I guess I was kinda lucky. The dumbest comment came from a friend of my ex's. I am standing next to the coffin at the wake and she asked how I was related to the deceased! I was so angry. But I have heard a bit of the "He's in a better place" ' God doesn't give you more than you can handle" and "He must be happy now in heaven" Actually, with another moment's thought - "I have children too and I can imagine what you are going through" that was probably the one that just burned me. That person got a piece of my mind. No one can know this unless they too have gone through it. I think that the only thing that I would say now is "I am so sorry for your loss. I know how your heart aches."
What not to say:
What are you doing with your son's things?
Don't make a Memorial or shrine where people can see it in your home and take it down after the first year.
It's been 6 months - why aren't you smiling?
You go to the cemetery too often or not enough.
You need to move on.
I had to write in for the 101 Things Not To Say To A Grieving Person. I am a very strong person, I have a lot of empathy for people, and I know that there are people who say the dumbest things. I can, for the most part, let things roll off me and not let it bug me. However, one thing was said to me at my son's service that I will never forget.
Gavin, was my only Son. He was everything to me, and everyone who knows me, knew how much I loved him. Gavin was proud of how strong a person I could be. Before he was sent to Afghanistan, he got to come home. He talked to me about what he wanted done if he was killed. One of them was for me not to cry. I pulled myself together before his service. I stood tall, and although a tear or two slid down my cheek, I didn't break down and cry. I did my best to give Gavin everything he asked for. That was very important for me.
I had people who just hugged me, people who asked me if I was ok, a lot of I'm sorry, etc. The one thing that floored me came from my daughter’s mother-in-law. She looked at me and said its ok, you have my son, and he's a good boy. Isn't he a good boy! I could not believe she said that to me with my beloved son's body 10 feet away from me.
What she could have said? I'm sorry, or nothing at all, but what she did say was horrible. I think of that every day. Every time I see her son, I remember what she said, and while he is a decent person, he will never come close to replacing my beloved Son.
From Bob C:
One of the most hurtful expressions I've heard was "Aren't you over this grief stuff yet?" referring to John's death. The helpful phrase for us has been "Can I come over and just be with you guys for a while? We don't need to talk unless you want to. I would like to be with you." We had several friends and pastoral staff who did the latter and they still call and ask us about our journey over four years later, and "Could I take you two to lunch?" The TAPS conference in DC opened our eyes to even better ways to help those who are, or will, grieve a loss. Thanks to all of you for your love and insight.
As for this week’s question "What are things not to say to a grieving person and what could they have said that would have been helpful." The question I must have heard hundreds of times that bothered me was "Are you doing all ok?" Of course someone who is grieving is not doing ok or they wouldn't be grieving! I knew that those people who said that meant to be nice but it just didn't feel that way to the grieving person. Instead a person should say something along the lines of, “I'm so sorry for your loss to you and your family. Is there anything I can do to help you through this difficult time?” Maybe they could offer to get the person away from the house for a meal or a walk or to do something as simple as taking the kids to or from school, preparing a meal, running to the grocery store, helping with the thank you notes or other chores that seem so impossible at the beginning. I had a friend that after the funeral was over and everyone went on home offered to have someone come over to help get my house back in order. That was such a big help to me after having 9 extra family members staying at our house. Just having the house back in order helped me feel less frazzled and confused. Her help was really a blessing to our family.
What struck me was a good friend of mine said to me, right after Sam's Memorial Service, "I just couldn't attend. I've been to too many of those services before (she worked for the Sheriffs' Department) and I just couldn't do it." I remember thinking, “Really, because your pain is so much greater than mine?” Like I had a choice! How selfish and insensitive people are, protecting themselves rather than supporting those suffering such enormous loss. Loss they cannot fathom unless they've walked down that path themselves. It would have been better if she just offered her condolences and left it at that. She did not need to elaborate as to why she chose not to attend.
I also have thought I could write a book with stupid things people said/say to me since my son was killed in Afghanistan at 20 years old on Aug. 7, 2010.
At first so many people told me "Kevin is still with you Val" or "you will see him again." I hated those comments always from people whose kids were all alive so how could they know the pain? I smiled and said little to nothing but I wanted to yell/scream "no he is gone" and" I don’t want to see him after I die I want to see and hug him NOW".
Many people assumed I shared their faith and would talk of heaven or God needing another angel that gave me no comfort as I did not share their faith.
A lot of people repeated the same empty platitudes like those above or "He is in a better place". I wanted to laugh and say anyplace is better than a warzone in afghan. People told me "At least you have another son", or "God doesn’t give you more than you can handle." People would say (with their kid standing next to them-" Val I don’t know how you do it you are so strong if something happened to my daughter I would kill myself."
One lady told me "My dog died." "I loved my dog". I said nothing and thought what an a**.
All the people who said "call me if you need anything” then disappeared after the rituals where done. They go back to work and normal life I was still home and the few times I did try to call I got answering machines and they did not even call me back. I just wanted people to say what they mean and mean what they say.
What I have learned from all this is to just say "I'm sorry" or" I am so sorry" as I hug the person. Nothing more. And I would go to them and let them talk about the person who has died and how they learned of the death.
I hated all the excuses I heard "I'm sorry about Kevin but it was just too hard for me or too soon after my dad died and I can’t handle calling hrs." So I wanted to say your dad was 92 and lived a long wonderful life my son just turned 20. They made it about them and their discomfort I had/have no tolerance for excuses.
The co-worker I thought was my friend. after a year had passed and she had been drinking she told me over the phone Val you are wound too tight, so serious, you are not as much fun as you used to be. I dropped her like a hot potato.
I learned to value the true friends I did have who were there the next morning with my fav latte from the local coffee shop. They didn’t ask me what I needed; they just showed up with the coffee and stayed to listen. The teacher I work with who just came to my house on my sons first birthday after his death. She just knocked on my door to give me a hug and tell me Val I have been thinking of you all day. She came in; we had a wonderful talk/visit. She was not afraid to talk to me about Kevin. That helped me to get through the day I had been dreading.
The woman who came to calling hrs (I knew her father and husband both had killed themselves years apart) she told me "You will get through this" and I did get comfort from that because I knew she knew the pain/grief.
One of the things that really started to bother me during my grieving process, and is still being said to me today, is this statement, "you are such a strong women/person"! WHY? Because I happen to be the mother & wife of two people who passed away; wasn't a choice. Just happened. I heard it so many times it actually started to make me physically sick. I don't understand the statement or the reasons behind it.
What I would like people to have said was possibly ask me how my son's kids are doing, and is there anything they could do for them. Or for my grandkids that have spent every day of the past 7 yrs. with my son. No one ever asked about the kids and that would have been very comforting to me.
I totally get how uncomfortable "death" is for folks; I used to work for Hospice..... and it's so sad that it is, but it's sad not for me and that doesn't make me strong, it just makes me a person that took the time growing up to look ahead to the future and realize that someday, all good things come to an end and I would have to decide how I was going to except that reality. I chose with respect and dignity; that's all I've done! And I'd hope that's what is shown me when it's my time!