What to Say, What Not to Say—When Someone Is Grieving a Coronavirus Loss

Interview with Dr. Colleen Cira:

Dr. Colleen Cira is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in Women and Trauma, and has worked with hundreds of people struggling with mental health issues.

 

Talking Points from Dr. Cira on How to Talk to Someone
Who Lost Someone to the Coronavirus:

Here’s the thing: it’s hard to see people we love in pain so we do all sorts of things to make OURSELVES feel better when we’re in this situation.  Which makes sense.  

    • Seeing loved ones grieving is painful for us and as humans we’re programmed to avoid pain (damn evolution) so there’s no judgement here.  We all say the wrong thing when we’re hurting because that’s a human thing to do.

    • But the key here is to realize that our response is based on wanting OUR pain to go away or THEIR pain to go away and there’s nothing that can be said that will do that.  Period.  That sucks, but that’s true.  So here are some of the things we say and do that are well-intentioned, but not helpful.

Don’t blame the victim

    • “How did they get it?”

    • “Were they following the rules?”

    • “Were they getting drive-through food?”

All of these questions are simply to help you feel safer. If you can pin the victim’s death on their bad behavior, then you feel safer.  Sounds pretty gross to say it outloud like that, but it’s true. It’s a human tendency . . . but now that you know we’re prone to doing things like that, catch yourself before you ask a question that tries to blame the victim. 

Don’t offer spiritual platitudes

  • “They’re in a better place now”
  • “They’re with God now.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “I once heard a priest say that these sorts of vague but rosy platitudes are practice bad spirituality, and I would have to agree.”

All of these things are meant to make the individual feel better, but they usually make the survivor feel worse because it sounds like you’re telling them they have nothing to be sad about.

Don’t shame

  • “Did you even know that person that well?”

  • “I mean, I get that it’s sad, but I also don’t see why you’re so upset.”

It’s a crazy time and we may feel incredibly sad about someone’s death—even if we weren’t all that close with them or they weren’t a part of our every day lives. Everyone is entitled to their feelings. Don’t make them feel like they aren’t just because you don’t understand.

Don’t avoid

  • “Let’s talk about something else to cheer you up!”

  • “Don’t cry!”

Again, this is because YOU feel uncomfortable, but the survivor may want to talk about it.  Your only job is to let them happen and sit with them in the pain, not try to avoid it.

Here’s the thing: there’s nothing we can say or do to make our pain or someone else’s go away.  Time and love are the only things that help.  So here’s what that can look and sound like:

What you can Say that
Is actually helpful

      • “I love you.”

      • “I’m here for you.”

      • “I wish I could make this better for you.”

      • “I feel so helpless and want to fix it, but I know that I can’t.”

      • “I have no idea what the “right thing” to say is, but I’m here trying and I’ll keep trying.”

      • “Is there anything that I can do to help?”

      • “Can I just sit with you?”

The bottom line here is this: Don’t try to FIX people or take away their pain. Sometimes just sitting with them in it is all that’s needed to let that person know that someone cares.

 

Available for Interviews: Dr. Colleen Cira

Dr. Colleen Cira received both her Masters and Doctorate from The Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois.  She’s the Founder and Executive Director of Cira Center for Behavioral Health, PC, a boutique group practice specializing in Women and Trauma with locations in Chicago and Oak Park.

She was named one of the “Top 100 Women in Chicago Making a Difference” by Today’s Chicago Woman. Dr. Cira is a trauma and anxiety expert, clinical supervisor, writer, speaker, consultant, activist, wife, and Mommy to two little ones.

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