When you want to help someone whose friend, relative, or coworker has died, avoid saying “you should” or “you shouldn’t.”
Grieving is some of the hardest work people ever undertake — perhaps the hardest. When the loss is new and raw, when bereaved parents or widowed spouses or parentless children face the realities of never seeing loved ones again, the pain is beyond description. In the grief-laden, foggy-minded months after my husband’s death, someone told me the human brain doesn’t have the capacity to imagine that kind of pain. Though I still can’t remember the context (whether written or spoken) nor who said it, the accuracy of the assertion burned itself into my core.
Grief doesn’t affect mourners 24/7; it lurks 48 hours a day, 14 days per week. (Whether “the math” agrees or not, that is how it feels.) Grief doesn’t visit the homes or workplaces of those who have lost; without permission it becomes an unwelcome squatter inside the cells and hearts of the bereaved. It tosses beloved furnishings out onto rainy streets while arranging its own dark goods in every corner of memory and thought.
Already facing such life-altering changes, the bereaved don’t deserve to be told they “should” or “shouldn’t” … anything.
Don’t say, “You should be…” or “You shouldn’t be…”
Don’t say, “You should feel” or “You shouldn’t feel…”
Don’t say, “You should already…” or “You shouldn’t yet…”
Don’t say, “You should have…” or “You shouldn’t have…”
Instead of helping, these and other shoulds and shouldn’ts send the bereaved the message they are not grieving the “right” way, that their best efforts are inadequate, that those best efforts fall short.
Telling the bereaved what they should or shouldn’t do (unless you’re a professional whose advice they are seeking) is like whipping a horse with a broken leg because it refuses to run — pointless and cruel.