Don’t Speak: The “Censorship” of Grief

“Don’t speak
I know what you’re saying
So please stop explaining
Don’t tell me cause it hurts”

“Don’t Speak”, song and lyrics by Eric Stefani and Gwen Stefani

When advising the bereaved (be it in-person or in writing), one of my most oft-repeated teachings is encouraging them to talk about their loss – their feelings, their fears, their anger, their uncertainties. I believe that continuing to express oneself throughout the grieving process (no matter how long that process may be) is a healthy, productive, and proactive way of coping.

However and unfortunately, a bereaved person can inadvertently choose the “wrong” set of ears with which to share their deepest, most intimate feelings surrounding their loss – and worse, they may not realize that this is a “wrong” person until that person makes the very insensitive attempt to shut off and shut down someone who is obviously in pain and looking for any number of things – solace, encouragement, strength, advice, hope…or perhaps just someone to hold a hand, wipe away a tear and gently say, “I understand”.


Susan A. recalls trying to talk about her late husband, only to be met by resistance from of all people, his own family. Susan shares, [His family] continually asked me, ‘When are you going to get over it and get on with your life?’ I was surprised when friends did [the same thing]. Some went through his entire illness with us, but after his death, they did not want to even hear his name. They would tell me, ‘You talk about him too much – you need to get over it’. When this happens you are numb and in shock. It is like being stabbed in the heart. Even after [many] years, it takes your breath away.”


I have long taught that every person in the world can be categorized into one of two columns: Energy Givers and Energy Drainers. Energy Givers are fantastic; they are the people for whom you are better for having spent time in their space. Conversely, if you spend enough time with an Energy Drainer, you will feel like someone let all of the air out of your tires. When you ask them how they are, they will tell you… and it’s never good. Are you familiar with the half full/half empty glass observation? An Energy Drainer’s glass is not just half-empty – the glass has a lipstick stain, an old cigarette butt in the bottom and it’s full of dribble holes.

Anyone who tries to shut you down in any way when you attempt to discuss your loss is an Energy Drainer; someone who is more concerned with their own feelings than they are with your healing. Let’s put it another way – if you have a beautiful 16×20 picture, would you go out and buy a 3×5 frame for it? Of course not. So why would you share a 16×20 picture of your wounded heart, your devastating loss, and your roller-coaster emotions with someone who has a 3×5 mind?