We work with a lot of people who have been injured in a number of different ways. The most heartbreaking cases are meeting with family members after a death. We are talking about very important things, but I totally understand how hollow some of it can be. There is an urgency because Insurance companies are never going to stop and grieve, but I know that for many it just is too soon. Unfortunately, in the end we can only talk about money. There is no way that any amount will replace their loss, but it is a system that works better than physically harming the person who caused the death.
Our goal is to represent the family as best we can, to understand their loss, and to take much of the paperwork and legal stuff off of their back. To make sure that time is spent to protect the departed’s reputation and provide for those who were left behind. To deal with the courts and other legal hearings that may come up with the defendant.
I struggle with the correct way to address each member and realize that each person is different and grieves differently. I came across a great list from a grief counselor Gloria Horsley about what not to say:
• You will never get over it. – This comment really drove me crazy as it always felt so condescending and minimizing and how do you respond? I didn’t want to “get over my son and his cousin’s death,” yet I wanted to move on to become strong and hopeful once again. I did want to get over the hurt. I now realize that I have “never gotten over it” but with time and work have transcended the pain and suffering and have again found joy.
• They are the first things you will think of every morning. – This was a comment was made by my husband’s secretary at Scott’s funeral. It’s true Scott being killed in an automobile accident was the first thing I thought of every morning for a while, and then as time went on I noticed that I started giving equal thought to my three living daughters and now my ten grandchildren.
• It wasn’t meant to be. – This is very fatalistic. How does anyone know what was meant to be. Someday when we join our loved ones we will know all the answers or not.
• You’re young. You can marry again. – I know that this comment drives widowers crazy. That special person will always be a part of your life.
• You can have another child. – Again, people are not replaceable. Our loved ones are unique and fill a special place in our lives.
• Maybe God is trying to teach you something. – Now, this must be a really crazy God if he/she wants us to suffer. I just can’t buy into this idea of a God.
• You must move on. – Who says? It is your life, and people move and change when they are ready. As a therapist, I always try to remember, “Don’t want more for people than they want for themselves.”
• They had a good life. – My sorrow is not about their “good life.” It is about how I will construct a new life without them.
• Be thankful you have other children. – As if I wasn’t thankful for my living children already. Our special children can never be replaced, but that doesn’t stop us from having a unique and special place in our hearts for each and every child that comes into our lives.
• Be strong for your parents. – This comment really bothered Scott’s sisters — Heidi, Rebecca and Heather — because they felt as though it discounted their loss.
• Show up. – I used to send a card. Now, I send myself. My friend Sally showed up at our house before our first dinner alone, brought a book, and just read while we ate. It was very comforting.
• Do a kindness. – Friends mowed my lawn, took out the garbage, walked the dog and took the kids to movies.
• Answer the telephone and take notes. – We had dozens of casseroles, walls of flowers, and random gifts. Without careful notes taken by friends, we would have had no idea what to do with the empty dishes or who to thank.
• Create a memorial website. – When I was working on the Columbia University 9/11 project helping the fire fighters’ families whose loved ones died in the Twin Trade Towers, we created a memorial website where our staff could tell his family the great things their son and brother had done to help those in need.
• Be willing to sit down and listen. – This is important, as people often get anxious when confronted with grief and have difficulty being silent when those in grief talk. I needed to tell my story over and over again in order to have the enormity of my loss become a reality.
• Ask how they are really feeling. – Don’t ask this question unless you are willing to take some time to listen. You feel dropped when people ask you to dig deep and then look at their watch.
• Don’t try to be profound. – This advice was given to me by a very insightful priest. Just showing up and sitting with grievers is profound.
• Be patient. Learning to live again takes time. – Friends and family don’t like to see you suffer, and they really do want you to get on with life. They want you to be the person you were prior to the loss. They don’t want to hear the reality that “you will never be the same but will have to find a ‘new normal’.”
This is some very helpful information. I will use it many times in the future.