If I had a swear jar, there are three words I would make more costly than the others. Because when we are in grief, this phrase is too-often accompanied by a hefty price tag that can cost us our healing. So, what are these three words (that I did not hide very well in the title of this post)? Yep, you guessed it.....:)
"Get Over It!"
Be warned, these three well-intentioned words are often disguised in the following politer versions including, "It's been a while since your mom died. Don't you think you've been sad long enough? I wonder if you should be 'over this' by now?" and the ever-famous, "You're still young and have so much life to live. I think you should just 'move on.’’’
Have you ever wondered why we choose these words of "comfort" for those in mourning, and how we might communicate differently instead?
Why Do We Say It?
It's difficult for us to see our friends in pain, so we often nudge them to "get over it" when they are mourning a loss for a duration longer than we expect (or approve). Sometimes, the bereaved might express their emotions of grief in a way that doesn't resonate with our own experiences of loss, so we encourage them to feel differently or stop altogether.
While we may use this phrase (or one of its kinder cousins) in frustration every now and then, most of the time, it is an attempt to help move someone out of their sorrow. Our society struggles with witnessing and supporting the authentic expression of raw emotions, and these are not in short supply following a loss. Thus, we sometimes relay "get over it" messages to protect ourselves from the discomfort of not knowing what to say or do when the emotional tenor of the conversation changes.
What's the Big Deal?
Since so many of us say it, I am often asked why the phrase is troubling to those who are mourning. First, let me be clear that I cannot speak for all those among us who have experienced a loss. Rather, the observations I share come from survivors who have had the courage to vent their frustrations honestly. To some, "getting over it" could equate being asked (or forced) to forget the person who died entirely, leaving all their love and memories behind. It might also insinuate that a survivor's expression of grief is not acceptable to those around them.
Deep down, mourners realize their support system might eventually grow tired of their sadness and prefer for them to get back to "normal" again. This can be particularly challenging because experiencing a loss changes us in many ways, and our friends aren't always sure who they will be once the veil of grief ascends. Some people say they don't feel like their "old" selves, yet they aren't exactly sure who or what their "new" selves will be. These (and other) perceptions of judgment from a support system can exacerbate isolation or cause some to believe they are not doing grief "right" or "quickly enough."
Contrary to popular belief, there is no time frame on grief and mourning (which I will discuss in a future post), and everyone processes their pain in different ways. No two people experience it or cope with loss the same. The things that are most helpful for you may not bring comfort to your immediate family member or friend.
The bottom line is that most of us haven't been very well prepared on the subject of grief, so we often have no idea how to respond when it happens in our own lives or to our friends.
My dear readers, I can sense your conflicted inner dialogue at this very moment. If we are being honest (which is a pre-requisite of any personal, emotional, social, or spiritual growth), we must address something as a group.
At some point, while sincerely trying to help a friend in grief, we've echoed a version of "get over it" before. Of course, there are a few saints among us who have never spoken the words aloud, but we've likely THOUGHT the phrase a time or two.
If we've all said it (or at least thought it), what do we do now?
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."
My friends, now is not the time for guilt, regret, or shame. The hurting among us need our reimagined expressions of compassion, and we cannot adequately reach out to them if we are stuck in our own contempt. As Dr. Angelou indicated, when we know better, we do better. So, we must collectively forgive ourselves for the unintended messages of our past and forge ahead, vowing to better support the hurting among us next time.
To my readers in current or past mourning, will you forgive us and continue to teach us? We are all works in progress, doing our best to love ourselves and our friends, failing miserably, and getting right back up to try again!
What Do We Say or Do Instead?
Now that we've learned more and are committed to doing better, what can we say to people in pain that will be more helpful than harmful? How do we respond in a way that brings comfort and validation to a person’s grief and suffering? How do we extend love to our friends and neighbors who have experienced great loss?
My next blog post will dive a little deeper and help answer these questions! It will include concrete tools for ministering to the hearts of the bereaved (including our own). We will also discuss the process of reconciliation as an alternative to "getting over" our grief. Stay tuned...
Until then, put a dollar in the swear jar if you find yourself backsliding:) And, extend yourself (and others) a little compassion and grace along the way!