It Isn’t Always Wanted: “Grief Phrases”

I’ve had some time to reflect since those beginning days. I didn’t always love my actions or my quietness or the way I kept most of the pain sheltered from those closest to me. I ate too much, I didn’t sleep enough, I walked around fine when I felt so far from it. I said things, I did things, but grief and loss will do that to a broken person.

I have heard phrases and comments throughout the years that I think should be addressed. I believe in my heart of hearts that people have good intentions, but they choke on their words because they don’t know what to say. Or they say what they think people want to hear. But I’m gonna let you in a little secret: that isn’t all that comforting.

That is where I come in.

“I totally understand. I lost my grandfather years ago and it was the worst moment of my life.”

I will never claim that my loss or my story or my trauma has any more or less weight than anyone else’s. That’s wrong, frankly, and it’s also a shitty look on my part. Grief isn’t a “let’s compare, let’s contrast,” sort of thing. That’s not going to make you feel better in the long run, trying to outdo someone who has also felt their life fall apart at the hands of a disaster they couldn’t prevent.

But the whole, “relatability” aspect of grief doesn’t patch up wounds like we think it does. It often bridges the gap even wider between two people instead of bringing them together because there is that undisclosed piece of, “how could you understand what I am going through when you aren’t me? When you aren’t living in my head, day in and day out, lost in my own thoughts.”

If grief was a one-size fits all, we’d all have it figured out. There would be a neat little handbook that gets passed around like Hors d’oeuvres at a wedding. Hell, if that was the case, you best believe I would be spending a lot less time drowning in a sea of “What-ifs.” It’d be more like, “how comes?”

If you want to connect with someone grieving say, “I have also been through a great loss. And, if you want, I would be willing to share some of the things that have helped me to get a better place.” You aren’t immediately shoving your own pain down someone else’s throat and you are relating to someone in a way that makes them feel safe.

2. “I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

It sounds good and fine and well. But there are cracks in the foundation of this sentence that need to be addressed before it winds up crumbling on the person who receives it. Essentially, when you utter these words, you are saying to someone, “I haven’t been through a pain likes yours before because g-d didn’t do this to me.”

We say this when we don’t have advice to give, but we want to say something that acknowledges the recognition of another human hurting. People who are drowning in grief hear things very black and white. “Are you really feeling good today?” may sound like, “you look like shit. Have you seen yourself this morning?” Grievers pick things apart because it’s the only thing to do that can hopefully provide a justifiable reason as to why this had to happen.

3. “You will be okay.”

So this one can get a little controversial, but remember, we are talking about the beginning here, people.

This goes back to those blanket statements that don’t mean as much as people have led us to believe. This phrase, believe it or not, is invalidating and doesn’t lift a person up. It gives someone a notion that you know more than they do without actually going through their life. “Oh, don’t worry. You won’t feel this way forever.” But in truth, you will feel this way forever, it will just probably take on different forms as you grow older.

I say this not to scare you, but to prepare you if certain emotions don’t fade even when the years pass on by. The last thing I would want is for someone to have hope over something that can’t change and then have to face the undying truth head first.

We Got This. It may not always feel like it, but it doesn’t change. You are stronger than you know and even if you can’t see it just yet, I most certainly can.

7 thoughts on “It Isn’t Always Wanted: “Grief Phrases”

  1. Wow, Dylan !!!

    You keep reminding me why I’m so happy that I follow your blog posts! 😀

    There are also people who might say stuff like “everything happens for a reason” (not in a blaming manner, but perhaps in a way to say “it almost seems like you are/were *supposed* to be challenged this way” — which might also seem difficult to stomach, I guess) … .

    I think it is indeed odd that communication can be so difficult sometimes. Definitely: the people who try to come across with what they know need to brush up on their humility skills. I am often in awe of Socrates, but then again I am also taken aback when I consider that he seems to have preferred to taking the punishment given to him than any other thing he might have tried.

    After having read quite a few of your posts, and also finding them so outstandingly sensitively written, I wonder: can you imagine embarking on a career path related to helping others to jump across the hurdles that get thrown in their paths?

    🙂 Norbert


  2. You have wisdom beyond your years and I have learned how to be a better listener today.
    Sending support and love to you. Your writing is magnificent, spot-on, hard to read sometimes, and aware. You are most generous in sharing your most intimate thoughts with everyone. I hope they bring some element of healing to you. ❤️


  3. Hi Dylan,
    You are spot on! People often don’t know what to say and search for a way to comfort mourners that isn’t quite right at the beginning.

    The most comforting words I heard when my mom died was from a good friend of hers. She said that my mom loved me so much. That’s what got me through and still resonates with me.


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