Anyone who has been bereaved has heard it.
Maybe we've even said it. I have, and wish I didn't.
The words, "I know how you feel."
How can anyone know how it feels to lose MY son. Or to lose YOUR father. Or YOUR husband. Others may have lost a mother or a son and know the crushing waves of grief but how can anyone know how your loss feels for you in your situation. Your loved one was unique and your relationship was unique.
All Relationships Are Unique
I loved my son in my unique way, he loved me in his unique way. When I heard, "I know how you feel", I wondered if their loved one was a powerful cyclist that would ride beside you as you struggled to cycle up a steep hill, put his hand on your back and push you, his mom, up the last section? Did their loved one make his award winning cheesecake at university and credit you for teaching him? Was he the one who would repair your computer late into the night and salvage lost data when you had given up in tears? Did they know what it was like to proudly pin his graduation boutonniere on his lapel or to catch him when he fainted at the first sight of blood or put up with his dry humour for years till he developed the most quick and warm wit? How can anyone understand how you feel?
Others are Well-meaning but Ill-equipped
We realize others are well-meaning and don't know what to say. They are ill-equipped to be comforting in a grief-avoiding society. But all relationships are unique, no exceptions. That means all grief is unique too. They don't know how you feel or what you are going through. People often try to fix your suffering with pat answers because they don't understand emotion. They might also offer intellectual comfort but your mind is not broken, your heart is.
Lead the Way as to How to Relate to You
At the holidays, we may need to lead the way in teaching others how grief works and what helps. We may need to tell our family that it warms our hearts to hear them tell a fond story of our loved one at the parties and that we may cry but we still want to hear it. Sometimes they fear that they will upset us by mentioning their name. Sometimes they try to advise us to stay busy and "not to think about it", as though that is possible.
You have the Right to Grieve
Grievers need a bill of rights to help face the holidays realistically and help others to understand. Trying to please others by putting on an act that we are happy is just too exhausting, even if they think we should "move on". A friend told me that his first Christmas without his wife was so hard, but the second one was even harder and his family thought he should be better but it was not till the third one that joy came back and said, "It was wonderful, just wonderful".