We are all affected by loss. As caring bystanders, we may be unsure how to respond, assist, or approach those in grief. We’re afraid of saying the wrong thing and upsetting the grieving person, so we may end up doing nothing at all. Here are Simple Things What to Say and What Not to Say to a Grieving Person
Simple Things What to Say and What Not to Say to a Grieving Person
Here’s a resource to help those who have suffered a loss:
What to Avoid
- Keep unsolicited advice to a minimum. Rather than saying, You should really… or, a friend of mine did that…, try: I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now. It must be extremely difficult.
- Don’t take over their story with yours. Though it may appear that you are expressing understanding and empathy, it can easily overwhelm someone who is in grief.
- Take your time with them. Grief changes people and takes time. The pressure to “return to normal” makes it even more painful.
- Don’t say, “I understand what you’re going through.” You don’t know their personal pain, even if you have a similar story.
- Don’t just leave after the funeral. Many people attend the funeral, stay for a few weeks, and then assume life returns to normal. In reality, we often don’t realise a loved one has died until the shock wears off and the funeral is over. That is when bereaved people require the most assistance.
- Do not avoid mentioning the deceased’s name. This is especially true for parents who have lost a child: they may feel it is their responsibility to keep their child’s memory alive and may enjoy hearing their child’s name spoken aloud.
- Avoid saying things like, God has a plan (grievers don’t like this part of the plan), Now there’s another flower in heaven, or At least you have another child. It’s better not to say anything at all.
- Avoid avoiding eye contact or ignoring the person. Make eye contact, nod, and acknowledge them if you are unsure how to handle an interaction.
What You Could Do
- Request permission. This is a polite way of telling the griever that you are interested in assisting them and hearing their story if they are ready. I’m truly sorry. Would you mind telling me about it? Is it okay if I hug you? Would it be okay if I went to the grocery store while I was there?
- How is your day treating you? or How are you today? (rather than How are you doing?) Then leave room for the response. Today may be a difficult day, and they need to know you are open to hearing about it.
- Share your memories of the deceased. Those who are bereaved enjoy hearing stories about their loved ones.
- Allow for a range of grief reactions. Everyone has a unique and personal way of dealing with grief, which may differ greatly from yours.
- Provide specific assistance with a decision. I’d like to help you in some way. I was considering picking up the kids or sending over a meal (homecooked or from your favourite restaurant? What day and time is it?). Grievers may require encouragement to accept assistance and may be overwhelmed by decisions. Giving them a choice allows you to narrow it down while still meeting their needs.
- Continue to check in after the funeral. The griever may fear that both their loved one and themselves will be forgotten if they do not reach out on a regular basis. Send a simple note card with a few words of inspiration, encouragement, or comfort once a week for 12 weeks. This can be something as simple as “I’m thinking of you” or a hopeful quote.
- If you’re unsure whether you can check in, ask. Is it okay if I text you whenever I think of you? If yes, send the following message every time: I was just thinking of you (or your loved one). Please tell me a story about her.
- Offer to have their house professionally cleaned with the help of a few friends. Grieving people may find it difficult to complete daily tasks.
- It is acceptable to remain silent. Putting your hand on the griever’s arm or standing beside them can be extremely powerful. We want to do more as helpers, but don’t underestimate the gift of your presence.
Bystanders are often unsure how to help those who have suffered a loss, so we offer advice on what to say and how to approach them. Grieving people may find it difficult to complete daily tasks after the funeral. They may fear that both their loved one and themselves will be forgotten if they do not reach out. Send a simple note card with a few words of inspiration, encouragement, or comfort once a week for 12 weeks.