Your gain: Be aware of things you don’t hear about grief that may come up during your journey. This will help you be prepared when and if they do arise, how to handle them, and how to reframe your mindset.
I highly encourage you to read through part one here before moving to part two. There, we cover things like coping with an absence, people making it all about themselves, triggers to be aware of, and having to watch others have what you’ve lost.
Expect Insensitivity During Grief
This is probably one of the most important things to be aware of, especially as your wounds are still fresh and the grief is relentless.
#1: Insensitivity Relating To Your Loss
This can come from the most close-to-home places, too, I’m telling ya. It’s shocking sometimes. Comments or actions that negatively remind you of your loss can circulate all around you at times. It’s so important to find a way to cope with it.
Here’s a quick example. My colleagues and I were talking about my upcoming wedding in a few months, and we were chatting about the ceremony portion. A manager I had a while ago, who knew very well my parents had passed, must have forgotten or was that unaware of themself. They asked if my parents were going to be partaking in a certain part of the ceremony. It actually shocked me and for a split second. In my mind, I was like… “wait, are they serious?”. I think it actually shocked a couple of other colleagues as well, who also knew my parents were gone.
A Workplace Faux-pas
I kindly corrected them. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I gently reminded them that my mom and dad were no longer here and that John’s parents would be part of it. Truthfully, I could see them wince and feel a little uncomfortable that they had blanked on that (or whatever happened in their mind). But, it happened. There was nothing I could do about it in the moment except be as gracious as I could.
An Innocent Yet Hurtful Comment
I love my husband dearly, but one (very innocent) comment he’s made multiple times since my parents passed have cut deep. Mind you, he’s been by my side through 95% of my journey of loss. As such, I had slightly higher (though unfair) expectations that he would understand some sensitivity around parent comments. For example…
He’ll say, “I’m really excited to see my mom today”. Or, “I’m really looking forward to playing baseball with my dad”. When he first made a comment like this earlier on in my grieving process, I was a bit taken aback. I thought, ‘I don’t understand how he could say that out loud. He knows I don’t have a mom or dad to see like he can. How sad I am about that. Is he serious!?’ When he did it again, I had to say something. I communicated how I felt. I communicated that it hurt my feelings, and I asked him to please be more mindful. But hang with me, because this next part is important.
He did let a sentiment like that slip a few more times over the years. There were times when he caught himself and apologized. There were times when he wouldn’t and I felt the need to nudge him to consider thinking before speaking. Here’s the thing, though. Is it fair of me to stifle his excitement of seeing his parents because of the crappy hand I was dealt? Short answer: no. Can I expect that of the rest of the world? Also no.
These kinds of comments about any kind of loss you’re going through can come from anywhere, anytime. Sure, I think to an extent the core people around you should have a little sensitivity radar about certain things. In my mind, that’s a loving, empathetic thing to do. But in asking him to essentially nix the comments about being excited to see his parents for my benefit? Nah, not so fair. He has every right to be excited to see his mom and dad, just as I would be if mine were here.
I put this example in here really just to give you something to noodle on if you’ve experienced this, and to consider it from both sides. My husband has never lost a close loved one, so there’s no way for him to understand the scars I have. When you go through it, you have better empathy for those scarred by similar things and you tend to think more ahead on comments like that.
You can, I think, certainly expect an added level of compassion from loved ones, but they don’t need to live in your grief with you. That’s your journey and something you need to find healing from. Now, with time and more healing, I’m so happy for him that he gets to visit with two happy, healthy parents. Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes but it does start to go down easier each time.
Straight Up Ignorance
Insensitive comments have come as close to home as you could imagine. I’ve heard those around me joke about cancer, and I’ve actually heard people joke or make comments about a tracheotomy (which my mom had due to her esophageal cancer)—seriously, it happens more than you’d think. It is grain after grain of salt in the wound that you certainly don’t need, but can’t always avoid.
I truly hope your reality is and will be kinder than mine in that regard, but all I can do is make you aware of it and to be the bigger person. Here are a few quick tips to follow if this happens to you and it really catches you off guard.
- Don’t stoop to their level. Take the high road and use this as a chance to practice compassion and patience. This might not come right away, and it might not come easily, trust me. That said, your loss has the power to change you. And YES, it has the power to change you for the better. Use this as an opportunity to do better yourself. Each time it happens it can hurt, but it also builds your resilience and that’s a really freaking awesome thing.
- Remember that word vomit exists. I wish I had a prettier way of saying that, but it’s honestly so true. My husband, though very sweet, is largely sensitive to my loss. However, he’ll occasionally put his foot in his mouth (i.e. the example above). It’ll be pretty obvious to you when someone does this vs. spitting out a statement with malicious intent. If it feels malicious, consider either distancing yourself from that individual. Or, have a rational discussion with them about their comments or behavior.
#2: Insensitivity Involving Social Media During Grie
One of the things that angered me the most while experiencing my loss involves social media. While I do love me some IG—and can end up scrolling for longer than I’d care to admit—the reasons I have listed below are some of the major qualms I have with it. So many people are so blinded by social media that they lose consideration for others.
By the way, there will absolutely be an entry coming to the LBG Journal about social media and its effects on coping in the near future but, for now, let me explain.
When my grief was at its most raw—my mom hadn’t even been gone two days—one of her family members posted about her death on Facebook. They didn’t tell my dad and I they were going to do it. Didn’t ask us if it was okay, no heads up, nothing. Now, while they’re certainly entitled to caring for my mom as much as I do and we weren’t her “gatekeepers”, so to speak, this infuriated my dad and me to no end for a few reasons.
Reason #1: Telling Family and Friends
We hadn’t had the chance to tell extended family members and some friends yet. When they posted about it, they tagged my mom’s Facebook profile. If you’re familiar with how FB works, this means my mom’s followers saw this post appear on their feed. This meant they found out through this family member they didn’t know, and not through us. I mean, what an awful feeling. It’s such a private, painful thing to have to reveal someone they loved is now gone.
Finding out on a social media platform can be bad enough. Tack on learning from someone who wasn’t that close to my mom at that point, who had zero consideration about whether or not everyone had been informed? Not cool at all. Please, do me a favor if you’re ever tempted to post about a passing: ask the primary caregivers. Ask those that were closest to the passing if it’s okay and if everyone who should be informed, has. It’s just a courtesy. There’s more on this below.
Reason #2: They Made It About Themselves
Here we are, still in shock. Yet it felt as though they used this opportunity to make it about them and their loss. Which many people do, right? Grief does that. If someone speaks at a funeral, it often ends up being about how they knew the departed and their relationship with them and the wonderful memories they share. Grief has a way of bringing that out and that’s not altogether a bad thing, but here’s the distinction…
These people weren’t honoring my mom or her incredible legacy. They brought their ego into it and frankly, it felt slimy.
She’s the one who’s gone, yet there’s nothing in your post about what a light she was in this world? Nothing about her life or what made her so special? Only about their pain, their suffering. What about the one who’s gone? It almost felt slimy, like it was more for attention than it was to pay a thoughtful tribute.
Your loss is your own, and you’re entitled to feel it, sure. That’s literally the point of Losses Become Gains, and I’ll ALWAYS empower that.
The point here is this: if you must post something, do it in a timely and tasteful way. Be thoughtful and kind with your words, and remember who it’s about.
I feel like I should end this section by making the argument that, yes, your social media is yours. You can say whatever the heck you want! What I’m getting at is that if you want to be a more sensitive, self-aware human, avoid making this mistake.
Reason #3: Consideration of Those on the Front Lines
This, I feel, is really important having been through the kind of loss I did. By that I mean taking care of someone with an illness. It’s something to keep in mind if you’re in this situation; or, know someone who is and you’re witnessing what they’re enduring right now.
I have an entire post on what not to say to someone who is grieving, and a part of that involves something called “The Ring Theory” that I discovered from an article from the LA Times. Please check that post out because it’s a super important topic. Or, maybe there are things you can relate to in that entry as you’re going through a loss that you can share with others.
The Ring Theory
Basically, here’s the gist: there’s a “kvetching” order. The afflicted (hate that word, but for lack of a better one) is in the middle. The next smallest circle around it would be the next closest to the person in the center, like a parent or child or partner. Keep traveling out of the circle in each ring and you’ll see the familiarity and closeness with the person in the center of the situation change.
Comfort comes in, dumping (or kvetching) goes out.
What’s the point? Be helpful, not hurtful. When you’re talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, listening is more helpful than speaking. If you must speak, ask yourself if what you’re about to say is going to provide comfort and support. Not going to provide support and empathy? Don’t say it.
If you’re not the one up close and personal with the person fighting for their life, and if you’re not the one there with them day in and out and witnessing the complete and utter heartbreak in person… have respect for the people that are. It’s really that simple.
It’s so easy to sit behind a computer or your phone, give away massive news like that, and detach yourself from it. I can almost assure you that if you were experiencing what the people in the trenches are, you might need some more time before blowing it up on Facebook, too.
By detaching yourself from the people who are in the thick of it, you’re giving up a lot of sensitivity, understanding and empathy for those people. If you’re not the one who’s in the driver’s seat with caretaking. If you’re not the one who lost the baby, or you’re not the one who’s going through the divorce. Whatever it is—I encourage you to pause and take a beat.
Check in with those people first, and maybe even ask permission for when and how you say something if you absolutely feel the need to make it public. Do it tastefully and with respect. If “asking permission” feels a little funny, simply put yourself in their shoes and imagine having to do what they did. Hold off on posting until they do.
Coping with Entitlement During Grief
If this happens to you as it did with me, if there’s any wisdom I can give you, it’s this. There are always going to be people that feel they have a sense of entitlement or permission to say something. Perhaps they consider themselves close to the situation or person as well. Maybe they really do mean well, and perhaps they’re doing it because they’re grieving. They may want the support and attention—it happens.
This situation was something my dad, Greg, struggled with because he was not a gossipy person. My dad truly genuinely cared when things like a passing or hardship happened. He had this beautiful sense of awareness not to probe unless it was truly appropriate.
Bottom line, I implore everyone to take a page out of Greg Jordan’s book. This incident quickly made me realize I can’t control other people’s actions. I can only control my own. This is something I’ve known for years and would say out loud, sure, but didn’t truly comprehend until that moment.
In that moment, I could only control how I felt and how I handled myself. How I spoke to people, and how I considered others’ feelings—or would have, if I were in my relative’s shoes. In that moment I learned that I could only strive to be more sensitive than they were. I could be the bigger person.
Expect Unsolicited Advice During Grief
Oh, man… if I had a dollar. I realize the premise of this blog is literally to give advice (and support, and coping tools, the list goes on!) What I mean here is that naggy advice people spring on you when you’re so not in the mood.
Most everyone will have an opinion or some wisdom to impart on what you’re dealing with. Grief has likely hit a lot of us, and everyone has their own antidote for coping with it. But unless you have a relationship with that person where you can tell them to go take a hike and you don’t feel like hearing it, you might be caught in a situation where you need to grin and bear hearing it.
The thing is, most people are likely saying whatever they’re advising out of love or support. They feel it could bring you some peace, acceptance, or understanding for what happened. Can’t really fault someone for that, right? If not, I bet you’ll be able to sniff out someone who’s being preachy or furthering their own agenda pretty quickly.
Unsolicited advice or points of view can honestly be very exhausting and frustrating. And, maybe even a little confusing! For me, having not endured a lot of major loss until my mom died, there was no “roadmap” (not that there really is one).
Expect Unsolicited Advice During Grief
5 stages of grief aside, when others offer their guidance it’s so often a reflection of their loss or what they have/haven’t experienced in life. Reading an LBG entry is no different! You can easily end up receiving various points of view and different ways of handling your loss. There’s also that “well, when MY grandma died, I…” (fill in the blank). Hey, you’re going to experience that here, too, I’ll admit.
The best guidance I can give here is two things:
- Accept the love people are showing, even if it’s not in the form you need. What some people find comforting or loving might not match up with what speaks to you. Love languages differ, so remember this and I promise you’ll find the unsolicited advice less cringey.
- When someone does present you with advice or input on what you should/shouldn’t do, listen gracefully with an open heart and mind. Then, let it sink in and find out what works for you. You never know, some of it might be useful or a game-changer! If not in the moment, down the line when you’re feeling better.
That’s exactly what I want you to do when you read something here, too. As with LBG, many people out there care about you and want to help you. That’s all it is. Not everything presented to you will work. But when you’re going through something difficult, having as many tools in your belt can’t hurt, right?
Don’t Miss Part Two!
This “8 Things You Don’t Hear Enough” entry is a lengthy topic. I want to make sure we cover it all in enough detail to truly help you and make a difference with how you reframe your mindset with grief. Each of these is honestly very close to my heart and are things I feel everyone should be aware of! Click below to check it out.