Most people struggle with confronting a friend or a loved one who is grieving. Attending a funeral or visitation is usually a dreaded event and often our biggest concern is what to say. Most of us know that a grieving person needs rest, food and other practical gifts such as child or pet care. What we are less prepared for is personal interaction, so we are going to look at some guidelines that I hope prove helpful.
What Not to Say
Of course, the following list will not include every possible thing one can say wrong to the person who is in grief, but it might be the top six.
- Everything happens for a reason. This platitude is not helpful. You may believe this, but it doesn’t make it so. More importantly, it makes the person who has suffered a loss feel as though they have been targeted. It delays essential grief because it seems as though one should be not only accepting of their loss but grateful for it. It is cruel to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
- God needed an angel in heaven.
- Be thankful you have other children. Saying this negates the loss of a child. Each son or daughter in a family has their own special place. A parent who loses one child is already thankful for their other children without your reminder.
- He/She lived a good long life. The survivor knows this without being told. Their challenge is to figure out how to live without them.
- You are young, you can have another child or you can marry again. People we love are not replaceable.
- Call if you need anything. They won’t. They need many things, but if you are too unimaginative to offer something specific you are not helpful.
What to Say
- Nothing, just be present, with a hand clasp or hug as appropriate with this particular individual. Do not run away and add to the feeling of abandonment.
- Some cliques are okay if you feel you must say something, e.g., “I’m sorry” or “I care.”
- Something practical and specific like: “I’ve made your dinner,” “I’ll keep the kids tomorrow,” “I’ll walk the dog daily this week.”
- The name of the deceased, Contrary to what you might believe it does not cause added sadness. One fear of a survivor is that their loved one will be forgotten.
- I’ll be back. And, don’t forget to come back and ask how the grieving person is feeling. It is not a subject to avoid, but to embrace. Then listen.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”