Death. Gah! As a society, we are awkward about one of the most human experiences we will have and to face ourselves at some point. None of us are getting out alive. When someone dies, we try to offer comfort and to say something meaningful to a grieving person. We mean no harm; it’s just the opposite.
So why do we fail so miserably at this?
Perhaps it’s because we are only repeating what we have heard, and we feel that we should say something. So, maybe, something is better than nothing. No acknowledgment is agreeably is the worst, but knowing what to say to a grieving person is confusing a best.
A grieving person themselves may even say one of the ‘worst things to say,’ such as he/she is in a better place. Where as an acquaintance saying it may not feel as good to the griever. Confusing right? Rule of thumb; let the griever pave the path.
Below is a list that I have compiled after working with and talking with many grieving folks.
The Most Helpful and Heartfelt things to say to someone in grief:
1. I don’t know what to say. (being honest is always appreciated)
2. I wish I had the right words; please know that I care.
3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can. (only offer if you mean it)
4. You and your loved ones will be in my thoughts and prayers.
5. I am just a phone call away. Call anytime. I mean it.
6. Can I give you a hug? (always ask)
7. I am usually up early (or late) if you ever need anything. I am here for you.
8. This is devasting. I’ll be here for you.
9. I’m so sorry for your loss or, “my condolences”.
If you use these, try to add the deceased name to them. Example: “I’m so sorry for your loss”. “Harry was a wonderful: husband or son” etc. “Harry adored you”. “You were a wonderful mom to Harry”.
Acknowledge the person that died and use their relationship. It means the world to the griever that their person is recognized.
Some of the Most Hurtful and Unhelpful things:
1. He/she is in a better place now. Whether this is true or not, this does not help. A griever may say this, but it feels cold coming from someone else.
2. Did you know? (when someone dies by suicide) No, we did not.
3. Be strong. Be brave. (Just don’t, this implies they need to be those things)
4. There is a reason for everything.
5. You will find love again.
6. You can have more children.
7. I know how you feel. (No, you don’t)
8. He/she did what they came here to do, and it was her time to go.
9. God wanted them more.
10. At least they lived a long life; many don’t.
11. Anything that starts with, At least.
12. He/she brought this on themself.
13. Let me know if you need anything.
This last one seems like it is a kind thing to say. What actually happens here is, you’ve just given the burden of figuring out what they need (which they don’t know). Then to reach out to you to ask, which they won’t.
Instead, offer to do something and then do it. For example, every week, come over and mow the lawn or take care of snow removal. Come over every morning to walk the dog. Every week take care of the trash. Every Sunday, come over and do housecleaning. Pick up the kids and run errands. Do things for a grieving person. Waiting for them to let you know what they need is not helping them at all.
This by any means is not a complete list, but use them as some guidelines to go by. And, yes, I have said some of these myself before when wanting to support a friend or loved one who is experiencing profound grief. Many were told to me as well when I was experiencing grief. We don’t know what we don’t know, but, we can do better.
Grief is hard. Be kind and compassionate to all involved, including yourselves. Please understand that many are simply figuring this out as they go.
With Much Love,