It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who has recently lost a loved one. Whether the grieving is a colleague, friend, family member or neighbor, words rarely seem to express our feelings of sympathy and sadness. If you are trying to figure out how to help someone who is grieving, experts say you should keep the following 6 tips in mind:
1. Speak from the Heart.
Some people are afraid that they will say the wrong thing, and by doing so, will make the bereaved feel even worse. Others are concerned that typical statements like “I’m sorry for your loss,” “please accept my condolences,” or “my thoughts are with you at this difficult time,” come across as banal or clichéd. Experts say you shouldn’t worry about that. Instead, you should simply speak from the heart. It’s ok to rely on common phrases of condolences if that’s all that comes to mind–they’ve become standard because they work. The most important thing is to say something; the worst thing is to say nothing at all or to avoid the topic altogether. You may think that you are keeping the bereaved from having sad thoughts, but often it just comes across as not caring about their loss.
2. Just Be There.
The best thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to be there with them, even if you just sit together quietly. That’s part of the purpose of rituals like wakes and sitting shiva: it keeps the bereaved from having to be alone. If you can’t be there in person, send a card, flowers or a fruit basket; or make a donation to a meaningful charity in the name of the person who died.
3. Acknowledge the Loss.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who passed away. Even if you didn’t know that person well, you can talk about how meaningful the relationship was to the bereaved and encourage those who are in mourning to share favorite stories about the person who died. For example, you might say, “I know you loved your father very much and that you will miss him. I’d love to hear about some of the good times you shared together.”
4. Offer Specific Help.
While it’s nice to offer any sort of helping hand to those grieving, specific suggestions are often the most useful. So instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” it is better to say something like, “I know you have a lot on your mind right now, so let me bring over a casserole for dinner tomorrow night so you don’t have to worry about cooking. Is that ok?”
5. Recognize the Seven Stages of Grief.
Different people respond to the death of a loved one in different ways. Be mindful that there is no right or wrong way to grieve and that people progress through the seven stages of grief at varying speeds. So no matter how someone grieving is behaving, do your best to be thoughtful, empathetic and supportive.
6. Follow Up.
Experts note that for many in mourning, the period of time following the death of a loved one is a busy one. It is likely that there will be a funeral, memorial service, or another event to plan and prepare for. There are many decisions to be made and lots going on. But later on, when these activities are over, the feelings of loss can be overwhelming. That’s why they suggest that you touch base from time to time, with a visit, phone call, email or text message. You don’t have to be fancy about it, you can simply say something like, “I’m just following up to see how you are doing. How are you feeling today?” As with all the other expressions of condolence described above, the key idea you want to express is that you know the person is grieving and that you are available to listen to whatever is on their mind.
For many people, the idea of death brings a great deal of discomfort. That is why it can be so difficult to talk about. But don’t let your own discomfort get in the way of offering solace when someone you know has lost a loved one. Instead, follow these six steps recommended by experts.