Thursday, November 12, 2015

What Not to Say: "They are not suffering anymore"

A.Hanson, Boulder, CO. 2009
This is one of the trite platitudes that I have mixed feelings about.  It is not factually incorrect, but it is still not one of the better things that you can say to a grieving family.  When someone dies, after a prolonged illness, it is indeed true, their suffering is over. But the suffering of those they leave behind continues and intensifies.

This saying in particular is well-intentioned and comes from a place of wanting to offer care, but it is still one of those "What not to say" phrases. Saying, "they are not suffering anymore" is an attempt to erase the very real (and raw) pain and suffering that precipitated this death.  Death is hard work.  We all hope for a peaceful death, but in reality, that is only one potential outcome among many possibilities. To say, "they are not suffering anymore" denies the intensity and the rawness of what just occurred.

Death does not occur in a vacuum.  When someone that we love dies, that has ripple effects on everyone around them. A family system is disrupted. A way of life is over. There is suddenly an absence instead of a presence. A whole life of stories and experiences is just gone. And the suffering for those who grieve is just beginning.

So please, don't say, "they are not suffering anymore" when you mean "I cannot imagine how painful these last weeks have been while you watched your loved one slip away."

Say instead….

"I see your pain."
"I am willing to listen."
"Tell me about what hurts."
"Do you want to talk about it?"

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