I recently came across an article: What Not to Say to a Griever: Illustrated, and it took me back to a time when I first started in clinical practice. I think about some of the things I used to say to cancer patients at the ripe age of 24 that would make me crawl under a table today.
While people have the best intentions to comfort someone that is grieving or coping with a new cancer diagnosis, it's important to have critical thinking/communication skills as well when it comes to comforting a patient or family member.
“God never gives us more than we can handle," is probably not the best to say to someone that is not religious. Also, telling someone, "She’s in a better place now," may not help the griever cope with the loss—it may actually escalate the feelings of grief even more. What better place is there than being by the side of your spouse for the past 40 years?
Los Angeles-based designer, Emily McDowell, was diagnosed with cancer at a young age, and states that the emotional impact of it all lingered. This inspired her to create a line of empathy cards that help to convey more authentic communication about sickness and suffering:
I Promise Never to Refer to Your Illness as a "Journey." Unless Someone Takes You on a Cruise.
I'm Really Sorry I Haven't Been in Touch. I Didn't Know What to Say.
When we think we are providing comfort to someone that is grieving or coping with a cancer diagnosis, we may in fact have an opposite effect on them. This in turn can cause the griever to alienate themselves from family and friends. If you can't find the right words to say, then perhaps a hug, holding their hand, or running errands for them is best. Actions can speak louder than words.
What tips can you share to help someone that is grieving a loss or coping with a cancer diagnosis?