Grief hijacking – also known as competitive grieving, grief, emotional or energy vampires, grief tourists – call it what you like, it’s exhausting and heartbreaking. You’ve started a conversation, whether on social media or in real life, about your loss, and the conversation twists to become about their loss, not yours. They might be grieving for your person, they might bring in their own loss in a way that it seems like they are playing grief Top Trumps. They might be the acquaintances who pop up from your past to tell you that you are brave, or share your social media posts to show that they are ‘supporting’ their grieving friend without ever actually doing anything to help. Whichever it is, the person you are talking to has made it all about them.
If you are approached by grief vampires and grief hijackers, have boundaries to help protect yourself. Share only what you are comfortable about sharing, and say no if they ask too many questions or want to share things about you on social media that you want to keep private.
If you, as the friend or family member, want to respond to people’s posts or stories about bereavement, think about what to say. Remember that it’s about them, not you. And if you are going to offer help, be there and do it.
Christmas can be hard for some people. This is written for The Widows' Handbook, but there are a lot of reasons why people don't want to be forced to be jolly at Christmas.
Don't push people who don't want to be part of the Christmas spirit - people who have been bereaved, particularly if they were bereaved during the Festive season, don't always want to be part of the jollities.
Invite people who struggle with Christmas along to things, and if they say no, accept the answer. Tell them the offer remains open if they change their minds. Accept that they might say yes, and then change their minds. And then give them peace and space.
Remember that if you invite grieving people, you are inviting their grief too - it's part of who they are.
Above everything, be kind.
When you hear that someone you know and care about has been widowed, for most people the first instinct is to say, 'what can I do to help?' But this puts the pressure on the widowed person to think of something, and that's not easy in the moment. These are the things that helped me.
For the widow:
There are things best never said to a widow…
Worried you'll say the wrong thing? Read this awesome piece called How not to say the wrong thing.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.