A Grief Primer

A Primer for Grief.
or, Keep Your Mouth Shut, Or Just Say You’re Sorry

So many other people have said it SO MUCH BETTER than I can. Here are my favorite articles about grief, death, dying, and other heavy-ass aspects of mortality. You will die. People around you will die. People you love will be diagnosed with awful things, and people you care about will lose loved ones. Here are some words I’ve found useful, in no particular order:


Comfort in, dump out. It’s the easiest and best way to not say the wrong thing. This applies to ANY traumatic situation, not just death and dying and disease.

An all-purpose site about grief. Seriously, this site is complex, comprehensive, and useful as hell if you or someone you know is grieving something (spoiler: probably they/you are). My favorite article on this whole site is this one:
I love this site.


“Those of us with disabilities who are on medication regularly depend on “Big Pharma” to stay alive. ” Seriously fuck off with your conspiracy theories about “Big Pharma”, and stop calling antidepressants “poison”. Maybe your holistic healing bullshit works for you, but you seriously need to stop shaming people who have legitimate medical problems from seeking help with science and medicine. Your ignorance can literally kill people.

Yeah, Buzzfeed, home of listicles and stolen content from Tumblr, but I found this particular article useful in describing WHY those shitty, trite phrases are so hurtful. My favorite is “God has a plan = God did this to you.”

“Everything happens for a reason” makes my blood boil. No. No it fucking DOESN’T happen for a reason, unless that ‘reason’ is ‘because fuck you, that’s why’.

“It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.” Another collection of Stupid Shit People Say, and why they’re harmful. I am guilty of some of these, and I’m actively working on it.

“A tragedy is like a fault line. A life is split into a before and an after, and most of the time, the before was better.” This article gave me vocabulary to describe the people who absolutely can NOT talk to my dying ass with any kind of grace. The minimizers, the teachers, the solvers. All of them need to shut up.


A great all-purpose guide with examples of what not to say, and why those things are harmful. It includes many substitute phrases and why they are useful.

“Simply acknowledge their pain and listen to what it’s like for them.” A useful guide for being useful to someone who’s suffered a loss. It contains the single most useful piece of advice, I think: manage your own feelings first.

“Sorry about Mom. Sad face, sad face, crying face, heart, heart, unicorn.” Very thoughtful suggestions on crafting sincere condolences.

Something we instinctively know, but forget, is that grief doesn’t stop after the funeral. Another of the guides I linked above suggests visiting with a casserole or something on the 2 month anniversary, because the bereaved continue to need that outpouring of love and support. More than before, as this article points out, because that’s when the support usually starts to taper out. I call my diagnosis date my Saddiversary, and it is a hard day, even years later. It’s the day my previous self, with all her hopes, plans, and expectations, died. To paraphrase Kate Bowler in an article below, the future is a language I no longer speak – and I grieve for my past self and everything she could have been.


I can say from experience that getting an Official Diagnosis, even a horrible, terminal one, was a relief. It’s almost impossibly hard to have A Condition with no explanation, and often the best thing that can happen to someone is to become Officially Sick. A name to go with the symptoms, and a clear expectation of what’s to come, even if what’s to come is a complete shitshow.

Repeat until you are out of breath forever: it is not a terminally ill person’s responsibility to provide your life with inspiration. We are not heroes. We are not obligated to stay strong and positive. Sometimes, shit sucks – and you have to be one with that.


What it’s like to care for the dying, and to be dying. There’s a grace and power to be found in both roles.

An occasionally hard to read essay about dealing with his wife’s cancer, even the horrible parts no one likes to talk about. The absolute importance of taking care of the caretakers. The fucking nightmare it can be, taking care of the dying, especially when it’s real and ugly and not like those Hallmark movies make it out to be. Please GOD do not let me become a nightmare for my loved ones.

“The new normal” is an oft-used phrase, with ALS. Every time you adjust to the new normal, it changes. This is one man’s fight to constantly adjust.

19 hard lessons one woman learned when her husband died. Number fourteen is the most important, I think. There is no timeline for grieving.

A story about a life cut short by ALS, and the importance of knowing what you want for your own death, and how amazingly beautiful it can be.

Patton Oswalt wrote this amazing piece after his wife died. It is raw, and it is heartbreaking, and it is real.

A sweet and poignant piece about the way you die, in a very real sense, when someone you love dies.

ZOMG CLICKBAITEY HEADLINE OMG!! Ok seriously though, this is a very sweet story about a woman deciding on a home funeral, and of the peace it brought her family. It’s not illegal, it’s not dangerous, and it’s not macabre.


Your main source for all things Death Positive. Information on green burials? Check. How to hold a home funeral? Check. Planning your own funeral? Check. Want to find places to talk to other people about death? Check.

How sometimes allowing yourself the time for thinking about death can vastly improve the life you have left.

Death meditation – practicing for your own demise may make you and your loved ones better prepared for when it actually happens. It includes specific, useful questions to ask yourself.

The Order of the Good Death’s Death Acceptance Reading List. It’s chock full of wonderful reading suggestions.

Irreverent? Nah. Food is an integral part of our culture, and it’s absolutely natural to incorporate it into a memorial. I want funeral biscuits for mine. Friends, write that down.

Death positivity really CAN help you live a better life. It’s science.

A useful primer in the aspect of death planning no one really talks about – how to prepare against people going through your stuff when you’re dead and finding all your embarrassing stuff. NO MOM, DO NOT LOOK IN THE BEDSIDE DRAWER PLEASE.