Tag Archives: Be careful what you say

What to say to someone who is grieving

What I would say to someone who has lost a child?

I’m so sorry. I don’t really know what to say, but I want you to know that I feel deeply for you and your family and I only wish I could do more. I will be thinking of you. It must be impossible to absorb the tragedy of losing a child this way.

Very few people spoke to me this way when my son took his life, and those who did, probably had no idea how good it made me feel to hear their honest and meaningful words. It was so good because they did not ignore all reference to my child. They opened the conversation for me to talk about him at my own pace which helped a great deal. Nothing that anybody said could alleviate my pain but there were things that eased my heartache somewhat.

Being in the company of others who have experienced the same pain and loss, really made a difference. My family stayed home for the seven days of mourning which is a Jewish custom when dealing with mourning and grief after a funeral but, when that week came to an end, I had to reacquaint myself with the world of the living – with ‘NORMAL LIFE’ … whatever normal life was, and that was a frightening prospect. I had to figure out how to live with a huge hole in my heart. I wasn’t really ready for that. I still had more grief to process. I was afraid to attempt normal living in my damaged condition. I needed more time, so this is what I did.

I donned a pair of sturdy rubber gloves and started spring cleaning, moved heavy furniture and waged chemical warfare against any living creature that dared enter our home. In short, I scrubbed my life down to its bones. I needed the physical workout, but even that was insufficient, so I went out into our large garden and dug and weeded till exhaustion left me unable to think straight.

Much later, when I collected the mail, I found flyers advertising tombstones – singles or doubles, black or white, decorative or plain. A friend who dropped in to see how I was, advised me to dump them in the garbage bin, saying: When you are ready to deal with tombstones, you will choose one, but now is not the time. How right she was.

That same friend took me food shopping and from time to time, persuaded me to visit a mutual friend but, we always found more than one guest present. What I needed to hear was; Meet my friend, Jill who lost her son recently, which would have freed me from replying to the dreaded question; How many children do you have?

That question preoccupied me as well as my late husband, as most people tend to ask that question at some stage. My heart raced when I sensed it was on the agenda and I wondered what I would say/could say. ‘ I lost a son but have two daughters, OR I have two daughters.’ But that felt as  though I were deleting my son’s existence. We never managed to resolve that issue.

 

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What not to say to a person with a mental illness

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My son cringed when someone said; ‘For heaven’s sake find something to do with your time. You need a distraction.’BUT ignoring his illness did not help either. Nothing anyone said could make it disappear. He needed the right kind of attention.

‘Don’t you WANT to get better?’ was something we often heard. Of course he wanted to feel good again. As if he were not doing all he could.

When someone told him; ‘Your attitude needs to be changed drastically,’ it made him feel like a failure; unwanted.

‘Stop focusing on the negatives and try to see some positves,’ was not helpful either.

‘You’re getting the best medical attention you know!’ Your parents are doing all they can,’ made him feel as if he were not really trying to get better. He hated having a mental illness, distrusted the voices he heard, didn’t trust people either, especially not  doctors.’

‘Snap out of it. It’s enough already. Look how much time you’ve wasted being ill.’ As if a person is able to snap out of a mental illness!’

‘Aren’t you sick and tired of staying at home in bed? Find a job, dammit!’ ‘This made him feel like the worst kind of failure.’

‘It’s a mental illness that you have and  not a life sentence, you know. Do something about it. Surely you can beat it.’

So … what should people have said to my son? The best responses would possibly have been :-

I’m sorry to hear about your illness.

Is there anything I can do to help you?

I’ll see if I can ask around about a part time job for you.

Would you like to go out with me for a drive into the countryside one weekend? (Don’t just say that and not really mean it.)

Come over tonight and we can listen to music together or watch a movie.

 These positive statements could be very helpful and make the ill person feel more like everyone else.