Stop Saying "I'm Sorry for Your Loss"
Grief attacks everyone, but there are better ways to address it when it happens.
Posted February 3, 2020 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
- Grief always remains present; the missing elements in one's life cannot be overcome.
- The pain surrounding the permanence of grief can lessen over time.
- “I’m sorry for your loss” is one of a thousand statements that helps create distance, acting as a buffer for one's own fear.
Why do we consider death to be a loss? When someone dies, we haven’t lost them. Death is so much greater than loss. It is a reorganizing of life’s framework. It involves brutal emotions with no option for escape. How can we possibly think that “I’m sorry for your loss” could come close to covering that?
Grief has been much researched and thoroughly defined. We have tried to conceptualize it in stages, in the fluidity of the way it ravages us, and in equations to stop its torment. Despite our best efforts, it remains elusive.
Grief is one thing we have never learned to predict. It is one thing we are unable to prepare for, to conquer, to subdue. We have learned to master weather patterns, fight ravaging diseases, and barricade what is most precious to us against untold dangers. When it comes to grief, we have been continually beaten down and devastated.
Grief Does Not Equal Loss
When grief strikes, it does not just lead to a loss. It leads into a valley, where life is forever altered, and beginnings have to be carved out afresh. Grief robs us of the innocent warmth that comes with knowing where we are headed. It leaves us exposed, vulnerable, and desolate. Grief has a way of creating a vacuum of air around us that steals our ability to take a deep breath.
In trying to heal from grief, recognize that there is no way to replace core elements of your life that are no longer with you. You cannot find new hobbies, travel like you always wanted to, or reconnect with old friends in hopes of dimming the blinding pain of grief.
When someone is formed as part of you, there will eternally be a space in your life that fits only them. Our lives are comprised of countless distinctive shapes that orbit our everyday atmosphere. When grief extinguishes one of them, we will never be the same. If the sun was decimated tomorrow, Earth would have to rebuild in order to exist. We are the same. Grief forces us to reshape our reality.
Looking at Grief in a New Way
Many people work very hard to convince us that grief can be overcome. A different perspective in the healing process is that grief will always be present. There will never be a day when we wake up and forget the missing elements of our lives. Eventually, the pain that accompanies this remembering will dull and be less acute when it hits.
Ultimately, we will find other outlets into which we can pour our devotion and energy. Perhaps one of the most unfair aspects of grief is that we are forced to change the direction of our love. We are forced to shift a fundamental part of who we are, at the very moment we are not ready and are unprepared. Loving a person who can no longer receive it is heartbreaking.
Permission to Be Authentic
When grief attacks, we have to know there is no right way to respond. Good intentions may drive the robotic statements we make in response to grief, but they are not an authentic answer. “I’m sorry for your loss” is one of a thousand statements that help us create distance and buffer our own fear of the same grief happening to us. It is a way to subconsciously separate what is most important to us from the devastation that others are experiencing. In reality, any loss is a collective loss because it reminds us all deeply of the fragility surrounding us on this earth.
We need to stop using canned phrases of support when grief assaults. To assist in the healing process of others as well as our own emotional awareness, there are better ways to respond to grief. Using phrases such as “nothing will ever be the same,” or “my heart hurts for you” will lessen the distance and offer more genuine support.
We need to allow ourselves, and others, the experience of grief. In order to form scar tissue from its wounds, we have to be able to acknowledge the hole it creates first. We have to look back and mourn all of the “lasts” we did not know were coming. We have to feel the intense pain of the “firsts” that should not be happening. We have to look it in the eye before we can ever wade through it.
Moving forward from grief does not mean it resolves and disappears. Grief will never disappear. It will change shape and character, but it will continue to flow through our existence. Admitting this constant companion into our lives is often the first step in learning to survive its company.
Grief as a Measure of Love
Grief should be measured in love. It can be identified in the light that warms you from the inside. It can be gauged by depths of uninhibited laughter and trust once felt. It can be assessed from the downy softness of familiarity and comfort. Grief should be accounted for by the volume of devotion that once stood in its place. Instead of trying to bury it, we should celebrate what it represents. Grief, in its most excruciating form, is love that no longer has a place to belong.
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Smith, M., M.A., Robinson, L., & Segal, J., Ph.D. (2019). Coping with Grief and Loss. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm.