Grief comes in many shapes and sizes, but one thing usually holds true across the board- we can feel very conflicted about how to respond to curious (even if they’re well-meaning) people.  

Have you ever found yourself on the receiving end of personal questions you don’t want to answer? 

How did your father die?
Why did you get divorced?

What happened with your job?

If you’ve ever grieved the loss of something or someone and felt like people were asking for information you didn’t want to give, but were unsure how to respond, I get it. 

In this week’s episode, you’ll learn how to establish appropriate boundaries when dealing with any kind of loss, how to inform people how to treat you, and how to treat others in life’s most difficult moments. 

Listen to the episode here

Grief is the acute pain and emotional anguish we feel in response to loss. It isn’t limited to death and can include the end of a marriage, a friendship, a career, or the end of a particular life cycle. The act of grieving is an important part of recognizing and honoring what we’ve experienced in life. One of the reasons grief can be so intense is because it is a direct reflection of how much we love. 

When we’re grieving the death of a loved one, there can be a misconception that if we stay in grief, it’s a way to keep the person close to us. Christina Rasmussen, my friend and the author of Second Firsts: A Step-by-Step Guide to Life After Loss, says this is like keeping ourselves in the waiting room of life. Christina writes, “when it’s your time to go, you won’t wish you had spent more time grieving; you’ll wish you had spent more time living.”

So much of the time, even after a devastating loss of someone we love, we know deep down they would want us to celebrate the life we had with them and, in time, move on. 

If we don’t honor the way we feel about things changing or about saying goodbye to someone or something, it can hinder us in our growth and keep us from moving forward. 

Do you identify with being a people-pleaser, an empath, or codependent? When you are someone who is always taking care of others and very dialed into people’s emotions, it can be difficult to grieve, especially if your automatic response is to prioritize the way others are feeling. 

If you have people-pleasing tendencies, taking care of yourself is an important aspect of grieving. Be aware of when you should be turning within to care for yourself instead of focusing your attention outward by worrying about everyone else. 

When my dear friend, Kris Carr lost her father, she told me how grateful she was for all of the condolences, but she knew she needed space to grieve. She made an internal boundary for herself to let it be OK to not respond to all of the people who send cards, gifts, and flowers. She decided to prioritize her own grieving process and not put someone else’s desire for her to acknowledge them above what she actually needed to do. How amazing is that?

When Someone You Care About Is Grieving

Let’s talk a little bit about being on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to grief. What can you say to someone who is grieving? A good rule of thumb from The Grief Recovery Institute is to start with knowing what not to say

Don’t say:

  • I know how you feel. 

The truth is, you don’t. It’s natural for us to want to make a connection with someone who is grieving, but bringing up your second cousin who died of the same kind of cancer is not the way. 

Instead try:

  • I can’t imagine how you’re feeling.
  • I’m here if you want to talk or not talk. 
  • I’m thinking of you.

It can also be very helpful to relieve the griever of any emotional labor and actually write, “there’s no need for you to respond to me”. Some people in grief might know exactly what they need from you and some might not. If you are close to this person and you know what they eat or need, you can make or buy food, have groceries delivered, do laundry, plan to watch their kids, or schedule a sitter. Think about the ways you can add value without centering yourself in someone else’s grief. What’s appropriate to say and do has everything to do with what your relationship is with the person. 

Remember to be mindful. Don’t let your curiosity get the best of you. If someone is in mourning, asking about the specific details of their loss is not being supportive. If they want to share, staying present and witnessing them with compassion is supportive. 

Setting Boundaries When You Are Grieving

You’ve experienced a profound loss. How do you set boundaries with people who are asking all kinds of questions you don’t want to answer? 

Kasia Urbaniak is an expert in power dynamics and teaches women verbal self-defense. When someone is asking the question, they are in the dominant position of power. What can you do? Flip the script. 

Instead of answering the question, you question the question. It’s a really subtle and simple shift, but the most important part of this process is not giving up information to satisfy another’s curiosity. Whether you’re grieving the loss of a job, a loved one, a relationship, or a pet, no matter the loss, if you don’t want to talk about it, this is one of my very favorite strategies for switching the power dynamic. 

You can simply say, “Why would you ask me that?” or “Why would you want to know that?” More often than not, the other person will apologize or move on. It is your right not to answer any question you don’t want to answer especially when you’re in incredible pain. 

Inside this week’s downloadable guide, I’m giving you more scripts and sentence starters to help you set boundaries with others when you’re grieving. You’ll also get some clarifying questions to help you understand why you relate to change, endings, and grief the way you do. You can download it here now. 

I hope this added value and if you think it would be helpful to someone else in your circle, please share it. If this resonated with you or you have any questions for me, drop them here on the blog or connect with me over on Instagram @terricole. 

I hope you have an amazing week diving deep and as always, take care of you. 

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