A dear friend just lost his Dad (not long after losing his Mom) and has been sharing his heartache on Facebook. Several kindhearted people said, "I know how you feel." Some had lost a parent, or other family member. One had lost her Dad last year. But here's the thing - even if you have had the exact same loss, the circumstances and history and relationship of that friend to their loved one is probably entirely different.
After my Mom's death, even folks who have also lost a parent could not tell me what to do because they had not walked my path – even Mary, whom I called at 2am that night, just sent me huge hugs and said I WOULD get through it (and took my calls for months to come). So even though folks might think this helps, they can’t really know your feelings and pain. However, do make room for the fact that they MAY know better than someone who says, oh, I know how you feel, I lost my cousin or my neighbor…and then they may often proceed to talk about themselves, rather than listening to you.
There is also what happened when my Dad passed - so many of his students expressed their sympathy by saying how wonderful he was and what a loss it must have been for me - they knew how I felt because they had also lost a wonderful parent. But the fact was that although Dad was beloved by many students and appears to have been an excellent teacher for many, he was not a wonderful husband or parent at all.
Now I didn't say anything to them, of course, because they have lovely memories and experiences to cherish, so why rob them of that? But it is a direct example of the assumptions that can be made.
It's one of the reflexive things we say when someone has a death in the family. But how can you know how I feel? You are not me! And even the closest of friends cannot know what is going on in your heart of hearts - especially when the loss is fresh, and we may not have had time to figure out how we feel at all. The feelings can be complex, murky and overwhelming - they take some time to discern, express and process.
So in the event of a loss close to you, perhaps one might say:
These suggestions make no presumptions and leave an open hand for the griever to grab onto when they need it. Stay available and open, and give hugs, if those are helpful for them.
And I believe it is perfectly ok, if someone uses this expression with you, it is perfectly ok to say:
Actually, I don't know what I feel yet
We had a complex relationship
There is a lot of pain there
You emotional journey is yours and yours alone. Every loss is completely personal and individual, and most folks who have been through enough loss will know this.
If you would like to speak to me personally about the above subject or any topic surrounding Grief, Loss, coaching or healing, click here to set aside a personal Free ½ Hour Empowerment Call. You are not alone.
Claire M. Schwartz
Leading You Back into the Light after Loss