We know it’s difficult at times to talk to and support someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Even more so, what practical things can we do to support them in their time of loss?
Here is a practical guide to help in those awkward moments of conversation where most don’t necessarily know what to say or do and a few practical ideas on helping those who are grieving.
DON’T JUST OFFER TO HELP
“Is there anything I can do for you?” is a great question.
However, it is so open ended and vague that it is practically useless. People often don’t know what you are actually capable of or willing to do. And sometimes trying to accommodate your offer can add more stress to the situation.
Of course you want to help, but if you are going to offer, be specific: “Can I come over tomorrow morning and do your laundry?” or, “I can pick people up at the airport if you need me to,” in case there are people flying in for a funeral.
DO GET TO WORK
While a specific offer of help is good, it is sometimes better to just show up and get to work:
- Offer to bring dinner.
- Take the dog for a walk,
- Mow the lawn,
- Go grocery shopping.
Anything is better than nothing.
DON’T AVOID TALKING ABOUT THE SITUATION
I’m guilty of talking around the situation, thinking that my presence is enough to show my support and that talking about the tragedy might be painful or awkward for them. I realize that talking about what has happened gives the grieving a chance to remember their loved one and to release any feelings they may be struggling with.
Any acknowledgement is better than “waiting” (or avoiding them) until they have time to process it on their own.
Again, anything is better than nothing.
If you are able to be there with them, let them talk. Don’t feel like you need to fill the silences. Ask them how they are doing, and then really listen to them.
DON’T CHASE AWAY LAUGHTER
Our perception, often, is that mourning is a heavy time that cracking a smile would be disrespectful or rude. But laughter has healing properties, and being able to smile, laugh, and be goofy helps.
DON’T MINIMIZE THEIR LOSS
I think it is natural to want to look on the bright side, to say that it could have been worse. But, for the person who has lost a loved one, it couldn’t have been worse. It is the worst thing in the world to lose a loved one.
DON’T SAY, “I’M SO SORRY.”
These are the words that seem to automatically come out when someone tells you they’ve lost a loved one. But try to keep it in.
When you say, “I’m so sorry,” how are they supposed to respond?
“I’m sorry too”? Or maybe, “Yeah, this is really hard”?
More often than not, when you say “I’m so sorry” to someone who has lost a loved one, they end up consoling you: “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.” But really, it’s not “okay.” Here are some appropriate responses when someone has lost a loved one.
- Please know that you are in our thoughts.
- I am so sad to hear about your loss. If you feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to call me.
- John brought so much joy to everyone around him. He will be missed by many.
- My favorite memory of your grandfather was that time we made ice cream in his back yard. He was truly a wonderful man.
- I will always remember Mary and how much she loved you and the rest of your family.
- I wish I could take away your pain. Just know that I am thinking about you and praying for comfort for you and your family.
- Can I bring you a meal or help out around the house?
- Susan was such a shining light in so many people’s lives. We will all miss her terribly. Please know that I will be here for you when you need to talk.
- I can’t even begin to express how my heart aches for you. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- George was such a generous person. We will all miss him, but his legacy will live on through all the great work he did.
- I’ll miss Tom’s kind words and sweet smile. Please know that we are here for you and your family.
Living with loss is not something will ever go away. There will always be times in which the loss is more prominent: holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations.
Those are times to reach out and let your friend know that you are thinking about them, that you love them, that you remember them and their loved one.