Not long ago, comments were made in a social media thread concerning the use of “I” and “you” statements in grief situations that I think are helpful. The thread was started by Michael Whitworth, and John Mark Hicks added significant suggestions. Both of these men have experienced the death of a young son.
Whitworth began the thread by noting some of the unhelpful and even (unintentionally) hurtful things that people say to try to soften the blow of death and loss. He stated that he gives “permission to say two things, and only two things at the funeral home: ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m so sorry.’”
There were several responses, but the ones that had the most depth were by Hicks:
I counsel people to use only “I” statements that express their sympathy or their own feelings. This would include, “I love you” and “I’m so sorry.” “You” statements are interpretative or directive (e.g., “You need to sit down”), and something like “they are in a better place” is interpretative. We don’t interpret in such circumstances but express solidarity through “I” statements. I really like the “I” statements concept. It also allows for the expression of personal memories, “I will never forget the time…” Or, “I always appreciated how…”
Another person added to the thread with “I’ve found we use ‘you’ statements to stroke our own ego as fixers. There are some things we cannot fix, and that is our own problem we project on to others. Using ‘I’ statements is more intimate and ultimately helps us connect with those who are grieving. Great thought!”
One of Whitworth’s last responses was, “the point is that in our teaching and sharing with people about what is appropriate in our comforting the grieving, this is a good policy. It is more preventive and reflective than it is enforcement. For example, if you really want to help grievers, think in terms of ‘I’ statements rather than ‘You’ or interpretative statements.”
I think this is good and helpful information. As I have reflected on these comments, I also believe that using “I” statements instead of “you” statements is beneficial in many more situations than providing comfort for the grieving. What do you think?