Kristin A. Meekhof graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Kalamazoo College with a major in psychology. She completed the clinical Master in Social Work program at the University of Michigan, and is a licensed social worker. In 2007, when Kristin Meekhof was 33, her husband (a teacher and veteran) of four years was diagnosed with advanced adrenal cancer. Approximately eight weeks later, he died. Ms. Meekhof was born in S. Korea, and left on the street. She was found by a passerby, and four months later adopted by her parents. About two weeks shy of her fifth birthday, Ms. Meekhof's father, James Vande Vusse died.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
Here, then, are five things not to say to the bereaved:
1. "Give it time; you will feel better."
Time is really just the title of a magazine. After speaking with more than 100 widows for my book and at my book talks, I can confidently tell you that there is no specific time frame for healing. For example, just because 12 months have passed since a loved one's death, the bereaved doesn’t simply wake up on that date and feel happy again. Some may even feel guilty if they do not feel better within a certain time period, and comments like this won't help that.
2. "Think positive thoughts."
All the well wishes and positive psychology efforts may not bring comfort to the bereaved. Save the smiles and motivational platitudes for your friend running a marathon, because it's not necessarily appropriate here. The one thing the bereaved are positive about is the knowledge that they are struggling, and that their loved one is not here.
3. "At least you have your memories."
This may seem like an innocent comment, but what the bereaved hears is that those memories are all they have. Also, the words “at least” can come across as sounding like you are minimizing their loss. Besides, being promoted to think about memories from the past can actually bring more tears.
4. "This will make you stronger."
Many things in life, including bereavement, may build character and transform a person; however, this is not the time to encourage the development of emotional strength. Getting through a funeral can take a physical toll on the bereaved. A comment like this can be perceived as insensitive, and expanding a skill set which includes strength isn't typically something the bereaved are interested in.
5. "Everything happens for a reason."
This comment can come across as judgmental. And while you may not mean for it to be abrasive, you can’t know the future—and you can’t know someone's deepest pain. The bereaved most likely will have many dark moments ahead of them, and imposing a philosophical viewpoint to justify those difficult times isn’t the most helpful thing.
What to Do Instead
Show up for the bereaved; don’t just assume that they will reach out to you if they need help. Sometimes, helping with practical things like housekeeping can relieve stress and in turn help the bereaved. Also, be sure to take the initiative to follow up in the weeks and months ahead. Many people make such promises at a funeral, but few follow through, even tough social support can be a vital positive force in healing and will be remembered by those who receive it.