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Please do not say, “I understand”… because you don’t.

While grief is an emotional experience that we will all eventually endure, it remains a personal experience. Many are quick to respond with, “I understand” because they have also experienced grief and they may not know other words to say. Yet hearing “I understand”, is like only hearing their “I” statement, which minimizes the bereaved grief experience.

While the other may have lost a parent, they did not lose your parent or the complexities or uniqueness of that dynamic. While they may have lost a significant other, they did not lose your significant other or all those loved-filled/fight-filled moments. No other person is experiencing your loss even when you are mourning the loss of the same person. No, they do not understand. They do understand from their lens, but they do not understand your loss or all the emotions that arise with it.

When the bereaved hears, “I understand”, they hear that there is no further reason to share their feelings because the speaker “already knows”. They hear that their emotions are either not valued or are devalued because the other person has already felt them. They hear that their grief story has just become consumed by the story of the other person and they are not responsible for holding space for them.

Please do not say, “I understand” when a person shares their loss.

Other, more compassionate responses may include “My heart is with you”, “You are in my prayers”, “Sending you love”, “Holding you and your loved ones”, and the list goes on.

Please say something other than “I understand”, because I assure you, you do not!

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