What to do when someone makes an insensitive comment about your grief.
A few days after my dad died, one of my former teammates came up to me after school.
“My grandma saw on Facebook that your dad died and she told me that I have to tell you ‘I’m sorry.’”
The best part is, she never actually said “I’m sorry,” just that her grandma told her to say it.
Honestly, that conversation made me feel horrible. It made me feel like she didn’t care about me at all (we had played multiple sports together for years), and like maybe everyone else who had said sorry didn’t care at all - but they were just better at hiding it than her.
About a week later, I overheard this girl talking to one of her friends after school, and realized something: She was rude. Like, very, very rude.
The conversation we had a few days earlier suddenly made a lot of sense. It wasn’t that she didn’t care - she just didn’t know what to say.
Like this girl, many people don’t know what to say to someone who is grieving, and end up saying something rude or insensitive. I’m pretty sure that this girl thought that what she was saying was nice, and just didn’t realize how rude it sounded.
While I never ended up talking to her about her comment, I’ve talked to a few people since then about insensitive things they’ve said regarding grief, using this method:
1. Find a time to talk to the person privately.
“Hey, can I talk to you after school?”
2. Identify what the comment was.
“Earlier, you said that your grandma told you you had to say sorry to me.”
3. Explain how the comment made you feel.
“When you said that, it made it seem like you weren’t sorry at all, and like you were forced to do this.”
4. Offer an alternative comment.
“Instead of saying that, you could’ve said, ‘My grandma and I saw on Facebook that your dad died and just wanted to say sorry.’”
While people sometimes make rude comments, I’ve found that many didn’t even realize that what they said came across as anything but nice. By calling someone out (politely) for their comments, you can help them understand what they said, why it hurt, and what they can do instead.
Even if the person continues to say rude comments, it’s good to use this method. By helping educate other people about what to say to grievers, you’re not only helping yourself but others who have lost or will lose a loved one.
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Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.