Transparent man is sitting on a bench and looking at the lake. back view. autumn theme

An assumption: “something that you accept as true without question or proof

We all make assumptions. I do. You do. This article is full of them.

I’d like to invite you to a  reading and reflection exercise to get things started.

I have put together some comments below – fictional – but based on true events. As you read them, I invite you to:

  • Bring awareness around your reactions and what sensations, feelings and emotions come up for you.
  • Pause after each sentence and ask yourself, “What might be a possibly underlying assumption that led to the specified reaction?

“No, don’t mention the word “daughter” around her. Her daughter died 3 years ago.”

“We can’t invite her to the baby shower-she just had a miscarriage.”

“No, don’t invite him to that event there will mainly be couples and he just got a divorce.”

“You told him a story about you and his best friend? But he died… You probably made him feel horrible.”

“Well, no, I haven’t asked her to come to the dog park since her dog died. In fact, I haven’t talked to her at all because my dog is alive…it just feels weird.”

“No, don’t call her tomorrow it would have been her husband’s Birthday. “Maybe next week.

“Yeah… maybe don’t share the invite on social media-that was the restaurant him and his nephew used to go to for years…. I don’t want him knowing we are going there. I’s be too hard for him.”

“You asked her how her mother’s doing!? Her Mother has dementia! You can’t ask her that!

“I didn’t ask her how her day was. Now that she lost her job, I don’t want to make her feel bad…”

Can you relate to any of the statements? I put these examples and statements together as I believe they reflect the uncomfortable reactions and associated actions (or inaction) and behaviours (driven by emotions) potentially based on underlying assumptions associated with grief and loss.

What assumptions am I talking about?

Before I get into that, I want to reiterate that these reactions are not wrong or right.

I refer to these as “tiptoe” statements. Often originating from a good place, these “tip toe” statements can result in the OPPOSITE action that is often intended: to avoid any further pain for the griever and to relieve or avoid any emotionally activating event that could lead to potentially uncomfortable emotions that you may experience in the presence of their grief.

“By bringing awareness to our assumptions about grief and challenging our assumptions, I believe we can cultivate a deeper understanding, awareness and culture around grief and loss to better support those, yourself included, in the grieving journey.”

And that is what this article is about.

To create some structure and cohesion around my writing, I will use the following assumption-busting format:

1.The role assumptions play in Grief and Loss

2..Bring awareness to 2 specific and common assumptions I have observed around grief and loss

3.Review the potential harm as a result of acting on these assumptions

4.Challenge the assumption and offer an alternative option

5.How to use the new assumption (it takes practice!)

6.Benefits of using the new assumption

7. Actual examples (statements, actions)


– that grief is an organic reaction to any loss, not in any way limited to the death of a loved one as often reference din this article

-I will be referring to the person who has experienced a loss as the ‘bereaved” or “those in grief” but this is for the purposes of this article. That is not who they are. They have a name. They have a story, and you are not defined by your grief (i.e. the “griever”, the bereaved”)

-The loss of a loved one-they have a name too. They are not “a loss”. They are a being but again, for the purposes of this article I will be using “a loss/the loss.”

Assumptions and Grief: Why is this even important?

Assumptions have a huge impact on the way we think, feel, what we believe and how we behave.

Assumptions can be very helpful as they can keep us from having to think about every single thing, every time, allowing us to come up with quick responses and use out cognitive energy for other functions. They can be so powerful that I am actually going to introduce you to 2 assumptions and encourage trying hem out (you could always create space for no assumption at all, but I thought I’d ease your cognitive effort)

Assumptions can also lead to unhealthy and hurtful outcomes, whether intentional or not.

For example, if we accept something to be true without question, let’s say…we see a cute cat in the neighbourhood and assume it would like to be petted, then you act on this and approach the cat, it might scratch or bite you. On the other hand, if you assume the cat will scratch or bite you, you are likely not to approach the cat, thus avoiding the possibility of being scratched or bitten (or hissed at).

Because assumptions often operate at the subconscious level, it can make it difficult to see the link between assumption and action. By bringing awareness and being more mindful of the assumptions we have, we can explore them, challenge them, and then alter the way we feel, think and behave, hopefully leading to new learning, new growth and a healthier outcome.

This article is not here to judge you but to provide support for you and the important part you play in the grief and loss journey of others.

2 Assumptions and Alternative Assumptions about Grief and Loss

Assumption #1: The bereaved does not want to talk about their loss/losses. (as it might be assumed that this will be emotionally activating for them and create further pain)

Likely result/action taken: Avoiding mentioning or referring to the loved one and/or loss/losses.

Potential negative impact on the grief and loss journey by acting on this assumption may include:

  • Minimizing and/or disenfranchising the loss the griever is experiencing.
  • Limiting or impacting opportunity for connection with the loved one
  • Decreasing opportunity for releasing emotions (leading to more unprocessed, repressed grief, increasing chances of masked a complicated grief)
  • Keeps grief in isolation (which can already be a lonely place)

Alternative assumption: The griever wants to talk about their loved one and/or loss.

The fact is that the griever is already IN pain. By you are bringing up their loss or “sheltering them” (or sheltering yourself from your own emotional experience) and using “tip toe” statements CANNOT possibly deepen the pain they have already experienced and are likely to continue experiencing.

However, by avoiding any topic or word related to their loved one is acting as if the loss (not always a person or pet) never existed at all.

It did. They did. They may still, depending on that person’s faith and spiritual beliefs.

The relationship (and the love) is still alive and will be so as long as they are.

                       “The loss of a loved one is hard enough. The loss of the memories is a secondary loss that just compounds and complicates the grief.”

Memories can keep loved ones alive – it’s a way to connect with loved ones after loss – that they did have a story here-they do and always will have a story. That the love did not die, though it may not know where to go.

 Potential benefits of this new assumption:

People do enjoy talking about their loved ones and will often tell you when they don’t want to. By doing so it may contribute to the grief and loss journey as:

  • It keeps their memories (and relationship, love) alive.
  • It honours the life of their loved one.
  • It honours and witnesses the loss and their grief.
  • It helps them feel valued, heard and listened to.
  • That their loved one did, DOES, matter
  • Promotes ongoing connection with their loved one.

This assumption is also associated with 1 of what David Kessler refers to as the “the 6 elements you need when you are in grief”: Continued Connections with the loved one who has died.

For more on Grief Expert, David Kessler, you can go to his site here and access the video (with sign up) explaining this.

Here is an article referencing these as well:

How do I use this new assumption? Ask them about their loved one and share your memories of them

This assumption is not suggesting you ring someone up out of the blue and say, “let’s talk about your child who died by suicide.”

Yes, be mindful of the timing and story around the death (no, you do not want to share a funny story about their dog if they were hit by a car yesterday, unless they want to share this).

What this new assumption IS encouraging, for the sake of supporting others in their grieving journey, is to reach out, honour the memory and meaning that the loved one ho passed has in their lives and when in doubt, just ASK the bereaved how they are feeling about sharing memories

Assumption 2Any experience or outing related to their loved one and their loss should be avoided (again, as it might be assumed that this may be emotionally activating for them and create further pain)

Result/action taken: Not inviting or including the bereaved to functions, outings, activities.

Potential negative impact on the grief and loss journey by acting on this assumption may include:

  • May heighten and increase secondary losses (loss as a result to primary loss i.e. loss of connection social gatherings or celebrations as one’s partner died, and they are no longer invited to what they would have attend to together)
  • Further isolates the bereaved. I don’t just mean physically. Grief can be a lonely enough place as sit is.

Alternative assumption: The griever may want to be included, or at least given the opportunity to be included, in activities and experiences connected to their loss. (Their life is not over. They are still here.)

For example, not inviting a parent whose 5-year-old child died 3 years ago to a 5-year old’s Birthday party will not make the person’s pain any worse than it already is. They have likely reached the depths of anguish and despair. By not inviting them or including them in events and conversations, they may feel further isolated, withdrawn and disconnected.

Yes, it may be emotionally activating, but does it create further pain for them? Maybe. But you likely don’t have the power to do so AND they are likely already in, or have been, in the darkest of pain.

Although their reaction may be emotionally activating for YOU. And that is ok. You do not have to be a part of someone’s grieving journey and can choose what role you do or do not play. You are likely not their Counsellor; you may be experiencing your own grief from the loss or/and you have your own unique story.

Benefits of this new assumption:

It can support the grief and loss process and healing by:

  • Providing a sense of routine, structure, part of a self-care plan
  • Promotes elements of grief such as integration and meaning
  • Facilitate Inclusion, Community. Connection.
  • May give comfort, distraction, reprieve from the constant pain.

This assumption is also associated with another 1 of what David Kessler refers to as the “the 6 elements you need when you are in grief”: Surround yourself with community.

How do I use this new assumption? Invite and include the bereaved in conversations and events

Include and invite them to events and outings. Ask them. They can always say no or may choose to be a part of it in their own way.

You NOT inviting them, and them finding out about this, just isolates them further.

Include, don’t exclude or conclude.

Ask but don’t push.

Ok so I have tried on the new assumption…what might that look like?

I’d like to now direct your focus to the beginning of this article.

Remember those “tip toe” statements?  Well, here are some different example statements that may reflect these 2 approaches and integrate them into your communication and interaction with the bereaved. So, you can say instead:

“Hey, I am having my baby shower in 4 weeks. I would love for you to be a part of it in any way you would like. Can I send you an invitation?”

“I’d love to hear more about your sister. What kind of person was she?”

“Hey, I just want to hold a place in my heart today as I know it is Bob’s Birthday. He is in my thoughts.”

“I remember this one time when we were kids, and your mother took us out….”

Lastly, common questions I get and how I approach them:

To end this article, I want to share some common questions I have received when trying on the 2 new assumptions.

Q: “But what if they start crying?”

A: So, what if they do start crying”?

Q: “What if they want to leave the part early? 

A: So, what if they do want to leave the party early?

Q: What if they say they don’t want to talk about it?

A: Then they don’t want to talk about it. At that time. That’s just where they are at in that moment-that’s their grief

Whatever it is, remember that it is likely YOU who feels uncomfortable, and possibly imagining what you would feel like or how you would react, which is YOUR experience, not theirs.

In conclusion

Whether you are actively in someone’s journey of grief and loss or not, I hope this article provides you with some mindful feedback, awareness around grief and loss and how to support those in grief, no matter what role you choose to be a part of.

The assumptions and reactions I drew attention to are not wrong. If anything, they show you care. The fact that you are reading this article, shows you care.

You can also choose to not assume-anything. And if you are going to assume, assume you don’t know or assume otherwise😊

“Whether it is your grief, or the grief of someone you care about we all play a role in grief and loss, and often not by choice. But we do have a choice about how we think about, approach and navigate the journey.”

Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for the important part you play in  someone’s grief and loss journey.

I hope it can have a positive impact on supporting yourself, loved ones, our community alongside the grief and loss journey.