Avoiding Foot in Mouth Syndrome

My alternate title for this entry was “How to Deal with the Bereaved” but that sounded far too depressing.  I’ve been thinking about a conversation I had on the blog a few weeks ago regarding the right/wrong things to say after a loss.  I thought of some lessons that I have learned along this journey.  Please know that if you think you may have said any of the following, I am definitely not referring to anyone in particular.  It is the words that have stood out to me, not the speakers.  My intent is not to call anyone out.  If I am being honest, I have probably said or done some version of all of these myself at some point.  These are some behaviors that I will be mindful of in the future.

1.  “There is nothing worse than losing a child.”  This idea has come up in conversations several times in the last few months.  Thankfully, I don’t have the experience to know first hand how devastating this is.  For me, losing my husband is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.  For my kids, losing their dad has been traumatic.  Do we need to rank loss?  Everyone’s experience is different.  Everyone’s loss is gut wrenching and life altering.  If someone else’s loss is considered worse, am I supposed to get over my loss sooner?  I can’t imagine that this sentiment is helpful even if you have lost your child.  Not really helpful.

2.  Sharing stories.  This is a tricky one.  I don’t mind it – although it probably depends on the day.  I think a good rule of thumb definitely would be not to share a story unless it is yours to tell.  All of the stories that have been told to me have been unimaginably hard.  I believe that people share as a way to relate, to comfort, to let you know you are not alone.  My friend, Alex, likens it to when you are pregnant for the first time and everyone tells you their delivery and newborn stories.  Could be helpful.

3.  Giving advice.  My thought on this is “only if the person asks for it.”  Advice is hard to hear when you are grieving.  Your mind is only taking care of its immediate needs.  If you are inclined to give unsolicited advice consider a few things.  Are you close to this person?  Do they generally appreciate hearing your advice?  Is your advice going to greatly impact them in some way?  What is your motivation for giving your advice?  Could be helpful.  Likely not.

4.  Speaking for the dead.  This comes in the form of “she would have wanted…” or “he wouldn’t have wanted…”  I think that unless you have specifically heard from the person to whom you are referring, it is better not to state your opinion as their wishes.  (I can’t take credit for this one.  Dave’s sister, Kris, brought it to my attention.  I think she is right.)  Not helpful.

5.  Silk Ring Theory.  I have saved the best for last.  If we all follow this one, we don’t even have to worry about #1-4 or any others that might be out there.  I posted this link over a year ago after my friend, Lexy, shared it on Facebook.  This is SO SO valid.  Comfort in.  Dump out.  Comfort in.  Dump out.  www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe/0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407-story.html.  So Helpful.

Grief makes you a crazier version of your previous self.  I find that often my reactions are not normal for me.  Things irritate me that usually wouldn’t.  Yet, I am more understanding and sympathetic about other issues which might normally make me nuts.  I think when you are dealing with someone who is grieving just try to remember that it is NOT you.  It really is them.




11 thoughts on “Avoiding Foot in Mouth Syndrome

  1. Such good thoughts you share. I remember your post about the Silk Ring Theory and have thought of it often. It’s a wise path to follow.

  2. My husband and I had been married for 17months when he died of cancer someone said to me “well it’s not that bad you only knew him for a short while”.
    Thank you for your blog posts God bless you on your journey.

    • thank you, sandra. sadly, some people will never be able to avoid foot in mouth syndrome. i am not sure why they lack the sense or filter required to be supportive. what an awful thing to have said and a terrible memory for you during a horrible time in your life.

  3. Robyn — After reading about the Silk Ring, I think I “dumped in” with my rock story…yikes. But it came from a place of remembering…Dave will never be forgotten. xoxoxo

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