It is often difficult to know what to say when someone you know is grieving. We are afraid of intruding, of saying the wrong thing or even making them feel worse than they already feel.
When someone is grieving, they are filled with many emotions which can leave them feeling alone and often very vulnerable. While you may not know exactly what to say, the most important thing is to let them know you will be there as long as they need your support.
Remember, you are there to care for them, not to tell them what to do or how to grieve. Everyone reacts differently, and just because something was right for you or someone you know, does not mean it will be the right thing in this instance. Some people might have extreme reactions while others may withdraw, but it is important that however they grieve, they feel it is normal. There will be so many emotions running through them and expectations that they should act in a certain way just adds extra pressure and stress.
Acknowledge the situation, express your condolences and offer your support. Remember to ask how they are feeling - it can be easy to assume you will know, but even someone who is newly bereaved is not sad every minute of a day.
Listen with Compassion
It is often hard knowing how to make conversation with a person who is grieving.
Follow their lead; if they want to talk about their loved one you should listen, but if they prefer to avoid the subject you should respect their choice.
Many people will avoid mentioning the deceased thinking it will be easier not to talk about him or her, but the bereaved person needs to feel that their loss is acknowledged and that their loved one won’t be forgotten.
Be guided by the person you are talking to, if they want to talk about their loved one, talk openly about them, perhaps recalling a shared time or memory. They are often grateful for the opportunity to talk about their loved one as they have been a large part of their lives and many people can’t or won’t talk about them.
Understand that someone who is grieving is going through many emotions. Let them know it is okay to cry or to be angry. They need to be able to express their feelings in a safe place without being afraid of being judged or criticized. Be patient – sometimes someone who is grieving will want to tell the same story repeatedly. This helps with acceptance of their loss and is a process that shouldn’t be rushed, redirected or blocked.
Don’t give advice or tell them you know how they feel. Even if you have been through a similar experience, no-one really knows how another person feels as it depends on many different experiences and circumstances. Offer comfort and reassurance without making light of their loss. Be prepared to sit in silence if the bereaved person doesn’t feel like talking.
Offer Practical Assistance
It is difficult for many people to ask for help and even harder when you are grieving. Sometimes it is just too much effort, or they feel like so much has been done for them that they don’t want to ask for more.
The key can be not to actually ask, but to suggest ideas such as ‘I have made some soup for dinner, I will drop some in for you when I go out’, or ‘I am going to do some shopping, is there anything you need or would you like to come out for a quick trip?’ You can also leave the question more open such as ‘How can I help?’
Be consistent; people are very helpful around the time of the death and funeral but are often less visible afterwards when the bereaved is feeling the most vulnerable and alone. A quick phone call or short visit can make a world of difference in a day that seems to drag on forever.
Provide Ongoing Support
Grieving continues long after the funeral is over and generally for much longer than most people realize.
Continue your support by staying in touch, dropping by or making phone calls, as your care is often needed more after the funeral is over and the initial shock wears off and reality hits.
Don’t assume that the bereaved person is doing well based on appearances. They may look and act as though everything is okay, but inside they are still grieving. Avoid saying things like ‘you look well’ because that adds extra pressure to hide how he or she is really feeling.
Be aware of significant days such as anniversaries, birthday and other holidays. These days are particularly hard as they will be missing their loved ones even more than usual. Be sensitive, acknowledge the day, and let them know you are there for whatever he or she needs.
Knowing what to say to someone who has lost a loved one is often difficult, but when in doubt be open and honest, and if all else fails, tell them you don’t know what to say but are here if and when they need you. Knowing someone cares is more welcome than almost anything else.