Monday, 1 December 2014

Two words that should never be spoken...

...to anyone who has suffered any kind of loss/ tragedy/bereavement are "at least..."

Why do people do it? You lose a leg, and someone will point out that "at least" you've got one left. You have an accident, and "at least" you're still alive. You lose a much loved husband - as I did - and "at least" you've got the children, have had twenty plus happy years, have your memories etc etc.

This was brought home to me again today when for the first time since the accident, I saw a friend whose son had nearly died in a car crash in which his best friend had been killed. I said that I was sure people had managed to come up with some "at leasts", and sure enough, she'd been inundated with them.

I ask why, but of course, I know the answer ( and these "at leasts " are all espressed with the best of intentions). It's because most of us find it so difficult to cope with another's pain that we hunt desperately for some good news. What we all need to accept is that, sometimes, there  just isn't any. A hug, and "I'm so sorry" are all we can give. So let's  just do it.

23 comments:

  1. I have had friends and relatives die. I much prefer the platitudes to the reaction of the people who cross the street to avoid me.
    It would be good if people were brave enough but I know that not all are.

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    1. I thin you're right, Adrian. We all fear the reaction of the newly bereaved (and our own, too), and in fact I only started going to visit them immediately after the death after I learnt from my own experience how helpful it was. I've used the platitudes, too, but not any more. At the time of my bereavement I grew to dread them. I learnt a lot from my own experience. I certainly don't condemn others, and as you say. it's a lot better than crossing the street!

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  2. You are so right, Frances. A hug and 'I'm so sorry' is the best any of us can do, apart from offer practical help if possible.
    Adrian is right too. I once crossed the street to see a friend whose daughter had died. She told me that everyone else did the opposite and crossed to avoid her.

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    1. Thanks, Lynne. Years ago, just after I'd had my first baby, I avoided a woman who had just suffred a cot death. I've never forgotten that. or how ashamed I felt afterwards.

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  3. You are right of course, but Adrian's got a point too. I think the reason we do it to others is that it's what we do ourselves, for ourselves. I mean we try to find the things still making life worth living even if we have suffered an irreplacable loss. It might be best to avoid the "at least" expression though.

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    1. Thanks, DT. I do think it depends on the losos. I know that after my own bereavement, I was totally unable to think of anything good in life. It was a matter of trying to survive, and comfort my children.

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  4. You've made me wonder if I've been guilty of 'at leasts'. If I have, I certainly won't be again.

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    1. Cro, I'm sure we've all done it. It's almost automatic, isn't it. In fact I'm ought to change the wording of the post to include myself. I hoped it was implicit, but evidently not!

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  5. I was very lucky not to have been on the receiving end of "at least" when my husband (German) was diagnosed with a brain tumor, back in 2007. All of our German friends rallied round gave out lots of hugs and prayers and my English friends did so many practical things like transport our daughter to and from school and cook for her and make casseroles for me to eat when I returned exhausted from the hospital. Luckily after an extremely long operation at the superb Bonn University Klinikum, my husband survived and recovered fully. Even then, I didn't hear any "at leasts". How lucky was I? I will forever be grateful to all of those people that helped us.

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    1. Nicola, I'm so glad your husband recovered, and that you had such good support. Thank you for commenting.

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  6. It's only when it's pointed out to us that we realise we say such phrases, perhaps, or when we've been the recipient of too many. And some people (like me) are naturally positive/optimistic and maybe think they're helping. But you're right - a simple hug and 'I'm sorry' is often the only reaction (or even just the hug) - as happened with the sudden death of the son of friends of ours a few years ago. I had absolutely no other words that would possibly do in such circumstances and let the bereaved parents talk instead.

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    1. Yes. The need to talk is absolutely compulsive (at least, I fond it so). It's rather rlike discussing one's operation! But you obviously did the right thing, Rosemary.

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  7. I'm sure I've sometimes been guilty of saying the wrong thing when people have been bereaved, had other bad news or are suffering from depression. Just lately I've seen lots of things about what not to say in these situations and can understand why people stay away because they don't know the right thing to say.

    There isn't a right thing to say though, is there? I remember when my step dad died my mum longed for people to stop saying how sorry they were and to share happy memories and allow her to be grateful his suffering was over rather than making her feel guilty she didn't wish he'd clung on for a few more days.

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    1. I think maybe sometimes we need to take our cue from the bereaved person, Patsy. At least, that's what I've found. Whatever we do, it's always difficult, isn't it

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  8. I'm sure we've all been guilty of saying the wrong thing. I think the hugs are important and also the listening, and helping out with practical things where appropriate. I shall certainly be more aware in the future.

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    1. I've done it too, Maggie, I'm sure. It's almost automatic. I dont' think 'guilty' is the right word, because we all mean to be helpful. It's just that it's so easy to get it wrong.

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  9. "At least",as Adrian said, those people didn't take steps to avoid you.

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    1. You're right, L. Being avoided is the worst!

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  10. Dear Frances, you know my background when it comes to loss and grief just as I know something about yours, and I have commented about this topic on your blog before (a very long comment it was, I think).
    Like some of the others wrote, in my experience it is always well-intended, and people do what I do to myself when I am unhappy - I try to focus on the things in my life I can be glad (or even happy) about instead of wallowing in self-pity (which, incidentally, I have done last Sunday for several hours).
    Much more than WHAT people say to a bereaved person is THAT they talk to them instead of avoiding them.
    Going to a funeral today (school friend's mother). I will definitely NOT say any sentence starting with "at least".

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    1. You're beig very hard on yourself, Meike, when you talk of self-pity. I think we all have, as it were, a jar of grief for each bereavement, and every time we feel one of those awful waves, a little bit less is left in the jar, The jar never empties, but it becomes less full. I phone my sister every day, since she lives alone and is widowed. Every time she has a wave of grief, we say "think jar", and I believe it helps, just a bit.

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    2. That is one mental picture I'll definitely keep in mind, Frances. Thank you!

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  11. I think coping with the illness, pain and bereavements of others is far harder than dealing with those things when they happen to oneself. I don't remember any 'at leasts' but I do recall so many people telling me what they loved about Mum and Dad (and, after all in their 90s death was expected) but people did the same when our elder son died. Everyone that I can recall just said how happy they were to have known him. It's something I try to focus on when I meet people who have had a bereavement. On the whole, though, I find one of the hardest things to do is write to someone after a death. I invariably start with the words "I have no adequate words..." I use those words because I have never found words that are truly adequate. I think next time I shall try a bit harder. I find face to face is much easier because one can take a cue from the person to whom one is speaking. You have given a lot of food for thought Frances.

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  12. My father having died when I was sixteen, I have always known the platitudes to avoid, I hope. I remember seeing my teacher in the street when I was younger than that and having an awful impulse to cross over, knowing her husband had just died. Fortunately, I didn't. No one has said the wrong thing to me since my husband died in August, because everyone has meant well.

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