When good intentions turn ugly - how to approach someone dealing with grief and loss
February 12, 2018 |


A couple months ago, I read an article in Slate magazine about approaching people dealing with grief and loss.

“Finally,” I thought, “someone decided to take a stance and educate people on the proper etiquette of supporting the bereaved”.

Losing my mom was hard. Not having a proper support group was harder.

Ever since I lost my mom to esophageal cancer, I’ve found it hard to forgive people who evade the issue of bereavement.

“You don’t get it, because you didn’t lose your mom” - a common, phrase that either goes unsaid, or worse, gets thrown in out of fury. As deplorable a thing it is to say though, it takes one mourner to understand another. Even so, it’s preposterous to resign yourself to a life of waiting for the “mourners” boat to fill. Better dock the “I know it’s hard for you now, but know that I’m here for you, etc.” boat with all your family and friends.

So, as a person who went through loss and learned the hard way that my friends and family weren’t really who I thought they were, here are my suggestions on supporting someone who is going through a painful period.

They say “say something meaningful, or be forever silenced”. I beg to differ.

The worst impact of death is the near mass exodus of people from your life.

All we need is a little loving...

Unfortunately for me, I have had friends who never contacted me for an entire year before sending me a random message, as though something traumatic didn’t happen to me.

Don’t be an asshole.

There, I said it.

The last thing you want to do as a good friend is to suddenly go MIA because you cannot think of anything to say at all. All we want - and as selfish as it sounds - is for you to check in on us and see how we’re doing.

“How are you doing?”…“How do you think I’m doing?”

"How are you doing", is a step forward from the obnoxious disappearing act you planned on committing, but how do you think your friend is doing? Terrible, awful, dead inside - need I go on?

Instead of allowing your friend to lie to you with a “I’m fine”, play the considerate act and ask more specific questions. Choose "how are you doing today" over "how are you". If you're a grown up, here's your chance to act like one! Death shouldn't reduce you to a useless friend who needs a lesson on supporting bereaving people. Make an effort to understand your friend's emotions.

Emotions are fleeting; we’re only grateful that you’re aware that the emotional scale ranges from extreme sadness to mild sadness during a day.

There isn’t something more impersonal than “I’m sorry to hear that”.

Though point 2 does cover the importance of avoiding generalized statements, I'm now referring to the tone of queries.

A good example - “I’m sorry to hear that”.

Good manners are an essential part of society. Don't to chew with your mouth open, don't pick your nose (in public), always say thank you and “I’m sorry to hear that”.

A broken object cannot be fixed with any ordinary glue - you need to be patient, gentle and use the right materials at the right time. People are no different.

Surely, hearing “I’m sorry” is better than “ok”. In my experience however, as I recently informed my family that I was going through a rough patch, that particular response aggravated me. It sounds hollow and forced - it isn’t very far away from the “ok” you would use when you want to fill in the gap with words. People know that you’re either truly sorry, or indifferent; voicing how you feel is, well, making it about you.

Condolences are an essential part of grief. If you're prepared to offer your condolences, try something that doesn't sound apathetic. Engage in brief, but meaningful conversation; when someone says they’re down, take the reins (even if you’re not a therapist) and ask “do you know what could be bringing you down?”, or “what can I do to help you feel better?”. Even a simple “is there anything I can do for you right now?” works like a charm! It feels more personal, and takes a load off your heart when you try to be more perceptive. Empathy in turn, makes you feel like a million bucks because you’re making attempts at improving another person's mental wellbeing

Know when they need serious help.

There are different stages of grief: disbelief, confusion, anger, sadness, acceptance. It is normal for one to feel everything at once and to seem disoriented. I remember being in a trance as I packed up my apartment and left for India when I got the devastating news. This is a normal part of grief.

Step 1: Be there for them. Step 2: Be empathetic.

There are times however, when people exhibit troubling behaviours. Do NOT brush it aside, it will only get worse if you do not get to to root of the issue. If you feel like your friend might need professional counselling, do not hesitate to bring it up. If you feel yourself pushing against a wall, try discussing the possibility of an intervention with their close relative.

Please look at the following resources for more information - Note that some of these are not crisis centres, but links to resources that will assist you in your search for one:

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention

Sadly, I could not find a dedicated helpline in India, but this article provides a helpful list of mental health centres across the country.

US Resources for mental health

If you’re on the grieving end, here’s my advice to you:

It hurts like a bitch, but remember that they only mean well:

You’ve come to the conclusion that everyone has run away from you like you’ve got the plague. For a moment, you actually believe it to be true.

How on earth are you expected to handle the nincompoops who abandon you or say the worst things when you're trying to get your broken pieces back together? Push aside all that negativity - you're already dealing with waking up each day missing this person, and there's no need to hold onto any more negativity.

Death and grief are very negative events to deal with - bereaver or an outsider. Kudos to the loving family members and friends who try to be there for you! Remember though, no one is perfect - not even your parents. You cannot put people on a pedestal and expect them to maintain certain standards on a regular basis. This is exactly where I went wrong with my expectations of people.


For the longest time I was livid at myself for committing to friendships that were putty in hardship. How could someone not feel any empathy and ask a standard “how are you doing?”.

The answer is simple - empathy isn’t easy to learn unless you’ve lost someone close. I've never had a friend who experienced loss; if the situation was reversed, I’d be struggling to find the right words. This dawned on me as I experienced an eye-opening discussion with a close friend.

This friend of mine emailed me with a happy memory two months after my mother had died. My first thought upon reading the email was "how dismissive could she be of my feelings at this time?!". When I confronted her about the email a year later, she told me it was her way of making me see light during dark times.

The pain you’re experiencing is your own - unless you are prepared to sit someone down and tell them how you really feel, you might not get the warm wishes you are waiting for. Accept and appreciate the help you get.

Getting help isn’t a last resort - it is the first of many miracles that you can access during these rough times

Accept and appreciate help.

Therapy to me was a death sentence. I slapped aside all the suggestions of seeing a therapist - most of them from my inner conscience - until I realized my entire life was crumbling in front of my eyes. Seeing a therapist improved my quality of life. I have learned to accept that my mother is at peace, and that death is a painful but expected end to a good life.

I'll cover more about dealing with grief in your own life in greater detail in another blog post. That means you'll have to keep checking this space for an update!

That's it folks - all my suggestions for dealing with death in a warmer and understanding way.

I’d like to know what you think though! Does treading on eggshells work, or does it end up pushing people away?

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