No, No You Don’t
Last weekend, St. Louis saw one of the worst tragedies in recent memory. On a picnic at the Meramec River, five children drown after being swept into the undertow of the river. Five kids, four of which were siblings. Just horrible.
In today’s STL Post-Dispatch, there was a “message” from the family and friends of the deceased. They thanked everyone for their support and kindness during their loss, but asked that people please stop telling the family, “I understand how you feel because I also lost my friend…” Blah blah blah. Anyone who has gone through a tragedy of any type can relate to those who want to “do good” by offering words of empathy and support. However, all too often, people are drawn to a phrase like, “I know what you’re going through…” or “I know exactly how you feel…” Uh, no, no you don’t. Until you’ve lived in that other person’s skin and suffered the losses they have, then there’s no possible way they one can know another’s pain.
Furthermore, do you see how this changes the dynamic of the interaction? I’m hurting. You tell me about one of your losses. I, then, give you sympathy… yet, I’m still the person hurting! Ugh! This is one lesson I’d love to drill into peoples’ heads: there is never, ever anything inappropriate about saying, “I’m sorry for your loss” to someone who is grieving. Never, EVER put yourself in the role, whether purposefully or inadvertently, of switching the sympathy to your own situation.
Now, when people do this… why? Personally, I think it’s just because people struggle with what to say. So, they try to relate it to something they know. And that throws off the entire interaction.
Props to the grieving family for saying it like it is: no, no you don’t know how it feels, so stop saying so.