About Sympathy: Common Myths

There are several common myths and misunderstandings about how to express sympathy.
Everyone has good intentions when expressing sympathy, but good intentions don’t always equal comforting words.
There are many misunderstandings that cause problems. The biggest one being our idea that grief can be fixed or gotten over.
When we try to fix grief, minimize it or avoid it, we get overwhelmed trying to do the impossible. Instead of trying to get rid of grief, we can help by sharing the burden of grief.
Clearing up a few of these misunderstandings makes a world of difference.

The Top Ten Myths About Expressing Sympathy

Myth #1: Men are not as affected by grief as women. To grieve is to be human. Grief is universal and will affect us all at some point or another. Although it affects us all, not everybody is as open to sharing about it as others. This is too bad, since “a grief shared, is a grief diminished.”
Men are three times more likely to not receive any sympathy cards and gifts following a loss. Fathers are often overlooked during difficult losses like miscarriage and still-birth. This means that men have a hard time finding support during grief. It doesn’t have to be this way. There are so many types of memorial gifts for men.

Myth #2: We shouldn’t talk about the person who has died or mention their name. This seems to be more of an unspoken rule. People feel uncomfortable about mentioning the deceased. Many people wonder about sympathy card wording and if it’s okay to say, “I am sorry to hear about Tom.”
A grieving person needs opportunities to share memories and to receive support. It is comforting to remember, share memories, to hear their loved one’s name spoken and to see it written.

Myth #3: We should only send a sympathy card in the first two weeks.
The ideal time to send a card is within the first two weeks after the death, but if you are late you should still send your card.
It is also important to send support and encouragement cards for years after the death, especially around important dates and holidays.
It’s never too late to send a sympathy card and sometimes they actually mean more a long time after the funeral.

Myth #4: It’s better to say nothing at all than to risk saying the wrong thing. Well, perhaps this is a little bit true. The problem with it is that so many of us will avoid the bereaved and not even try to offer comfort out of fear of saying the wrong thing. Avoidance hurts too.
I am finding that if I put my foot in my mouth when trying to express my heart, there are several ways take it out and start again . It’s okay to say, “I don’t know what I can say” or “I am sorry that I don’t have anything amazing to say, but just know that I am here for you.” Many grieving people are so used to people saying insensitive things that it’d be refreshing to hear somebody realize their mistake, correct it and begin to be more supportive.

Myth #5: The bereaved want to hear stories about your losses.
It’s not a good time to make the conversation about you and this person has probably heard everybody’s sad stories about a similar loss. It’s just what people do. If you can instead give them a chance to share their stories and their favorite memories about their departed loved one, you’d be giving a wonderful gift. They’d probably welcome a chance to talk about him or her, although it might bring tears. Stories about when your uncle passed away will probably only be politely endured. It’s best to not share your experiences unless you are asked.

Myth #6: They don’t want to talk about it. I think that more than people don’t want to discuss their loss, they don’t want to discuss it with people who cannot provide a supportive atmosphere.
Knowing how to have a comforting presence can make you a treasured friend.
When the conversation turns to the lost loved one, tears well up. It’s not the conversation that is causing the pain, the pain never went away. Being a safe person to talk to can really help.

Myth #7: The bereaved need to be left alone.
So few people know how to act around grief sometimes it’s just better to be left alone. People who are grieving need the right kind of support. A comforting presence or a listening ear would probably be welcome.

Myth #8: Flowers make a great sympathy gift
Flowers have for a long time been the most popular expression of sympathy, however more and more people are making it known that they’d prefer something lasting. Now there are so many more options available . Personalized memorial jewelry, artwork, keepsakes, framed gifts and comforting blankets. There are even some times and circumstances in which you should not send flowers .

Myth #9: Somebody who is grieving will eventually “get over it”.
People don’t “get over” grief and just because the funeral is over doesn’t been that life is back to normal. You can’t determine when a person should be done grieving or where they are at in the grief cycle. We misunderstand the purpose of the grief cycle. It’s not to help us predict grief, but to accept grief as being unexpected and varied. Just about any range of emotion is a part of grief. Grief has no “normal.”

Myth #10: It’s good to be strong.
There are times to be strong, but there are also times to be weak. Grief is a time to weep, to be mad, to vent, to have doubts and to be supported by the people who care the most.

You Don’t Have to Do the Impossible- Expressing Sympathy Better is Simple

Expressions of sympathy are not meant to make it better, but to say,

  • “I care that you are hurting.”
  • “I care that you are going through this.”
  • “I want to help.”
  • “We are thinking of you praying for you.”

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