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What do I say? 
Started by moderator | modératrice
20 Oct 2013, 1:35 PM

We just returned from a lovely trip to England and Scotland. It’s a beautiful time of year to travel. The weather was divine as we drove through the countryside enjoying the vistas in their fall splendour. It was also easy to find accommodation everywhere we went.

At one B&B in Edinburgh, breakfast conversations often spilled over from one table to the next. I’m not sure if it was the configuration of the room or the particular warmth engendered by the hosts, but strangers talking to strangers happened without restraint here. When the conversation turned to loss, I felt all of you join me in the conversation.

The first morning, I met a fellow Canadian who was making a whirlwind visit to attend the funeral of her grandmother. The purpose of our journeys differed so much that I knew it best to offer my condolences and then just listen, hoping that if she had something she wished to say, she would know I would hear her.  

The second morning’s encounter I found a little more difficult. An Australian woman introduced herself. She was taking a 2-month journey around the globe with her son. It was his gift to her. You see, she lost her husband 8 months ago and her son thought it would be good to get away. It seemed to me she was torn – proud of her son and delighted to be travelling with him, but also wishing that she could be sharing all the new sites, sounds, tastes and smells with her life’s travelling companion.

Again, thanks to learning from your conversations on Virtual Hospice, I listened. I opened up the door to let her talk about her husband, about the trips they had done together and the ones they didn’t get to do. I knew that the tears welling up in her eyes were both good and difficult.

But, I have to admit that I was afraid of what hurt I might cause with my words. I’ve read your messages about how strangers can say the most wonderful things, but that sometimes unexpected conversations can also leave you shattered. Were some of my responses going to wound unnecessarily or would I comfort? How would I know?

So, I turn to you. What do you wish people to say when you’ve just told them that you lost a loved one? 

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Reply by marstin
20 Oct 2013, 3:34 PM

Hi Collen,

That's a really tough question to answer as I think as individuals we each have different triggers. I think the one thing that always irked me was the 'At least he is at peace now'. We become very selfish and rightly so, and don't care that he is at peace, we are not. We are living a hellish reality. I think that just listening is the key because once that floodgate is open we will pour our pain out to anyone that will listen. My daughter would say that she hates the words 'my condolences'. It triggers her anger and she wants to lash out. I guess it depends on where you are in your grieving process and that is a difficult thing to detect because we all grieve differently. You can gently ask questions about their loved ones because most people want to share how much they loved them. Sidestep any negative things that they might say about their departed ones because even thought we might rage at those we've lost, we don't want to hear anyone else say negative things about them.

I hope this helps a little. Now if you wanted the answer to what family and friends should and shouldn't do, I could give you a huge list. Lol!

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Reply by moderator | modératrice
21 Oct 2013, 1:47 AM

What insight you provide Tracie. It helps a lot.

The phrase "at least he is at peace now" has always seemed inadequate to me, but it is a phrase I could imagine myself using if struggling to find words. In the past I might have used such a phrase especially if I had know that the final days were difficult and painful, but I see now how much that ignores the reality of the caregivers, the family. Like any supportive conversation, one should speak with the person in front of them, not about someone else. Thus the part about sidestepping negative comments expressed by the grieving person is wise counsel. 

Oh dear, I used "my condolences" today. That's a tough one to avoid as well as the typical synonomous phrases.

Who else has some do's and don'ts to add?
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Reply by eKIM
12 Nov 2013, 12:51 AM

I came across this article recently, entitled, “How not to say the wrong thing.”  It gives some very good tips on how to talk with those who are grieving – what to say, what not to say, and to whom to say it to. 

I really liked the aspect of drawing a series of expanding circles (with the griever in the innermost circle) to explain how to effectively communicate with people depending on how close they are to the person grieving.  I hope you find this helpful.  - eKim



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