You may have noticed me mention “Support Staff” in previous posts. Let me explain to you what I mean by support staff and what it means to BE support staff.
Support staff is a kind, caring person who wants to help someone they know who is grieving the loss of a loved one. There are varying degrees of support staff, those that are there for the day or two and those that are in it for the long haul. There are a lot of do’s and don’ts for support staff so this may take more than one post to get through it!
I’ll start with some of the basics, these may sound harsh to you or it may sound like common sense. As someone on the receiving end, peoples’ words and actions can spark a lot of emotion. What you say and do also depends on whether you are a close friend of mine, an acquaintance or a family member. There is no hard and fast rule on what you can say to me, use your common sense and empathy to decide. Some of the don’t’s will apply mostly to the day or two support staff, some apply to everyone. Stop and think before you speak and you will probably be fine.
Ask me how I am unless you really want to know. I may tell you I’m “fine” or “good” but on the inside I am screaming “How the hell do you think I’m feeling?”.
Tell me you know how I feel. You don’t. Just because your great Aunt Bertha died when you were 4 and you still miss her doesn’t mean you have a clue how I am feeling. No matter how many similar circumstances there are between the death of your person and mine, you will never know how I feel. You may have an idea of how I am feeling, but that is not the same thing.
Say “I don’t know how you are holding up so well”. First off I’m not holding up well at all, it’s an act to keep you from seeing what is going on inside of me. Secondly, of course you don’t know. You have not and will never walk in my shoes.
Say that you understand the loss I am experiencing since you have been through a divorce. Your divorce and the death of my person are two very different losses. There may be similarities in the grieving process between the death of a person and the death of a marriage but the biggest difference is your person is still here. Mine is not.
Tell me I am young, I can have more children.
Tell me I am young, I will find love again.
Tell me “at least they lived a long life”. It wasn’t long enough for me.
Look at me like I have 3 heads. I am uncomfortable enough going out in public. Please don’t glance at me and whisper or stare at me when I walk in a room. This is hard enough without that added scrutiny.
Say how lucky I am that we had the time we did. Right now lucky doesn’t describe how I feel.
Admire how “strong” I am. Again, I am putting on an act right now. A few months down the road you can probably say this to me and have it be received well. At some point I will need to believe that I am strong but in the early stages of grief it’s probably not a good idea to admire my “strength”.
Tell me not to cry or tell not to be sad. I don’t know how that works.
Tell me you’re going to call me in a few weeks and get together if you don’t really mean it. Never make false promises to someone who is grieving.
Judge me. I am doing the best I can.
Tell me to “get over it”, DO NOT ever say those words to a grieving person. When I am ready I will move forward. I will never “move on” but I will eventually move forward.
Assume my appearance on the outside has any indication of how I am feeling on the inside. They are likely two completely different people. Grieving people get really good at acting.
Tell me what stage of grief I should in at any given time. The stages of grief are real but not everyone goes through them all and definitely not at the same pace. Unless you are my therapist, keep your opinions of my progress to yourself.
Get all weirded out and uncomfortable when I talk about my person You think you’re uncomfortable? How the hell do you think I feel?? I need to talk about them, let me. If they meant anything to you, you should be talking about them too. Talking about them is a way of celebrating their life and what they shared with us.
Ask me when I think I will want to have more children. That question is simply cruel.
Ask me when I am going to start dating? If you are an important part of my life you will know when I know.
Tell me I’m not the same. No shit???? I had a person tell me once that they miss the old me. Well I miss the old me too. The old me had my husband by my side and a happy carefree life full of love and adventures. Are you really surprised I am not the same person without those things???
Turn you back on me. I know my moods are irrational and I know I am hard to be around. I’m grieving and I never know from one day to the next how I will be feeling. Be patient with me. Grief is hard on everyone involved and not something any of us are prepared to do. One day it will be easier but for the time being please just be present for me.
I think that’s enough don’ts for one day! I do reserve to bring up others I may have forgotten when they arise.