Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One of the Worst Things You Can Say to Someone Who Just Experienced a Loss

hands“Let me know if you need anything.” she wrote in my sympathy card.

“Let me know if you need anything.” he told me as he hung up the phone.

“Let me know if you need anything.” she wrote on my Facebook wall.

In all honestly, those seven words sound very genuine…very sweet…very helpful…to the one saying them, that is. As one who walked the widow road, I actually learned to cringe when hearing those words.

After experiencing such tragedy, I needed someone to simply tell me what they were planning to do. Or give me simple choices to make…”Would you rather me bring dinner on Friday or dessert on Saturday?” But, the open ended statement of “let me know if you need anything” was simply…S.T.R.E.S.S.F.U.L. The last thing a person who has just experienced loss needs to know is that they have to now coordinate their own needs.

In the case of my widow journey, I simply had too many other things to coordinate or plan…a funeral and burial, how to dress my husband for burial, funeral expenses, estate plans, how to help my child return to school, when to return to work, when to go to counseling, what to eat since food is difficult to stomach these days…you get the idea.

Now…PLEASE don’t misunderstand me. I know this is generally a statement utilized when someone doesn’t know what else to say or truly doesn’t know how to help and is looking to the one grieving to figure that out for them. But, if at all possible, please don’t place that burden on them. Try to be more specific in your offer to help, or at least phrase the question in a way to narrow down the alternatives. This also helps them to know you really do want to help and are not just making an idle statement. How about these alternatives?

“Our children are going to the park tomorrow, can I pick up little Johnny to go with us?”

“We’re making soup and sandwiches for Saturday lunch, will you be home for me to drop off some for you?”

“I’d like to cook some meals for you to have in your freezer at a later date, will you be home Thursday or Friday evenings for me to drop them off?”

“Make I take you shopping to buy yourself something special to wear at the funeral?”

“When is your first counseling appointment? I’d like to drive you that day and will wait for you to finish. We can then go for a walk or go have coffee – whichever you prefer.”

There are exceptions to every rule, I know that, but I’ve discovered in talking with others that have experienced loss that they truly wish people would just DO instead of OFFER TO DO.

So, if you’ve experienced hesitation in the past in this area or offered that blanket “let me know if you need anything” statement to someone, I encourage you to ask God to show you a specific need and then simply meet that need. You will be blessed in serving, and the recipient will be blessed by not having to coordinate their needs!

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  1. Heather Shelley says:

    Perfect. Beautifully said, Leah. Thanks for sharing this. <3

  2. Carrie Adams says:

    Thank you for posting this…very timely for me. Sometimes it takes experiencing loss personally to be able to know or anticipate what others will need in their time of grief. I love you!!

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      I know Carrie…I had to experience loss too before this became real to me. I certainly don’t say it with criticism…only to educate. Life is often the best teacher, though. I love you too friend!

  3. Kerri Reeves Smith says:

    It is something said a lot, but the real problem is that it’s simply not true. People won’t do anything because what newly bereaved people need are what most people don’t want to put the effort in to give. People genuinely want to give food and a card, which is great and needed and helpful. But don’t offer the moon and the stars (let me know if you need ANYTHING) if you really can just give a nice view of the heavens. And if you lose a child, then all bets are off. Most people run in the other direction because they are scared of it and don’t want that thought to invade their reality.

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Kerri – Sadly, that is true…especially with the loss of children. My best friend and her husband lost their son when he was 8 years old. I saw a lot of people step up to support them, but unfortunately, there was an even larger group that shied away from them, because they were uncomfortable in this “new territory”. And…even sadder…it was often family in their situation. Until we’ve walked the road of being the one to experience the loss, however, I think it’s harder to see. We could sympathize but not empathize. However, once loss has “invaded” our world…everything changes…including perspective! Thank you for your words!

  4. Liz
    Very well said. We all will experience and have experienced huge losses in our lives. It is hard for me to ask for help in ANY situation. We all like to think that we are self sufficient and can handle things. I think we all can learn from your suggestion and remember it in times of need.
    Everyone experiences grief in their own way and I think I hate to presume to know how and what is needed. This is very helpful for me.
    We were discussing a similar theme in Bible study this morning.

    • Leah Stirewalt says:

      Linda – Thanks for the encouraging words! I agree – self-sufficiency can be such an “idol” sometimes – can’t it? Glad it’s helpful! Be blessed! Leah

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