What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

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If you’ve ever lost anyone close to you, it’s pretty likely that you remember awkward comments, panicked looks from friends and people who disappeared when they didn’t know what to say.

My Dad passed away I was 12, and I didn’t understand that what appeared as distance and insensitivity from my friends was just an extreme discomfort with my grief. It was a confusing time where I felt like nobody understood what I was going through. I didn’t even understand what I was going through. Although the way some friends and classmates tried to comfort me was completely wrong, I didn’t really know what would have been right.

As we all get older and have to deal with death more often, it’s important for us to figure out how we want to respond to grief. Death is a big part of life and knowing how to talk to those who are faced with the results of death can be a huge encouragement.

With that being said, if you know someone who is going through a loss right now, talking to them might be uncomfortable. No matter what we’ve been through, we can never exactly understand the experiences of those around us. We put pressure on ourselves to say the right things, and yet sometimes we don’t know what those are. If you’re at all loss for what to say to someone who is grieving, here are a few ideas:

  1. Nothing– being willing to just sit with someone as they are hurting speaks volumes. Some people might want a long hug, and some people might want you to be around, but not right in their space. However, the willingness to spend time with someone who is grieving is important. In a culture that is so focused on positivity, the person who is grieving may feel as though their negative emotions are a burden to those around them.
  2. What can I do for you/ please let me know if you need anything. I want to be there for you.- A major disclaimer for this one is that if you say anything like this, you have to mean it. Not only that, but you have to say it for the right reasons. Don’t say it when people you want to impress are listening (if the grieving person suspects your motive for offering help is to get attention, expect them to be infuriated.) Offer help in something like a private note or a quite moment. If you are available, the small acts of cooking a meal, caring for small children/pets or helping with housework can be incredibly meaningful. Aside from feeling cared for, it is very practical considering that simple chores can become more difficult through hard times.
  3. I remember… – Just talk about the person who died. It can mean so much for someone in the grieving process to hear that others noticed and cared about traits and memories of their loved one. My dad worked with people who had handicaps, and was very good at what he did. The people he worked with adored him. And whenever anyone brought up how loving and respectful he was, I would just glow inside, warm with good memories.
  4. I hate that this happened – life is unfair. I can’t understand your pain completely, but I hate that you’re hurting like this. It’s okay that you’re sad right now, because this sucks.

Saying the wrong thing doesn’t always mean we lack compassionate, but being careful with our words makes our compassion much more meaningful. Aside from finding the right words, having a genuine heart of compassion is often seen through the way we respond no matter what we say. People can often tell intuitively when someone genuinely cares. Those who are grieving don’t usually want to be cheered up. They don’t want their problems fixed and they don’t want to hear about what will help them. Most of the time, they just need to feel sad for a time. If you have the compassion to just recognize and be okay with that, then you’re doing just the right thing.

Take care,

Emily

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