Both Emily Threatt, author of Loving and Living Your Way Through Grief, and Allen Klein, author of Embracing Life After Loss, have been quoted in an article on what to say to someone who is grieving.
What to Say and What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving
When someone you know is grieving after a loss, it can be tough to know what to say or do. What feels appropriate and helpful for one person may seem wrong for another.
If you don’t know what to say to them, here’s a good place to start. Here’s what to say to someone who is grieving:
Emily Thiroux Threatt
Author | Lecturer | Founder, Loving and Living Your Way Through Grief
When someone is grieving, knowing the best thing to say can to comfort them can be a challenge.
Here is a list of things that will be good for you to express:
- Acknowledge the pain. Sometimes the griever will think they are the only one who has ever hurt like this. Tell them that their pain is real, that we all experience it at times of our lives. Let them know that you would be happy to listen.
- Tell them that you don’t know what to say and that you care, and you love them.
- Tell them the favorite thing you remember about the person who died: their smile, their laugh, and events that you shared. Tell them anything positive you remember.
- Let them know you will listen, then listen without judgment or advice. Sometimes we need to just express what we are feeling and know someone hears us.
- Tell them if you would be happy to come to stay with them for a few days or longer.
- Ask them to talk to you about their loved one any time they want.
- Tell them that they don’t have to talk, that you will just sit by them and be there for them.
- Tell them you are so sorry that they have to go through this.
- Let them know that they are in your prayers.
Just express yourself from the heart
There are lots more things you can say. Just express yourself from the heart. Trust that you will know what to say. Be honest, be kind, be loving, and the best words will come to you.
Keep in mind that when you are expressing yourself or offering advice that what you say needs to be about the person you are talking to. Be sure to think about what you want to express before you say it. If it’s not helpful and can’t be said with love, it is better not to speak.
Do be careful with religion
I have heard people throw around comments about what God would want or do, and these things can actually be hurtful depending on the person you are talking to. If you know their beliefs and can relate to them in a way you both can be comfortable with, by all means, say what you can. This can be of the deepest comfort.
If you don’t know, however, you may accidentally say something that can be of the deepest hurt. So just be cautious to express things from your heart with love.
The thing I heard more than anything else was “Just let me know if you need anything.” Please stop saying this now. They aren’t going to call you, or if they do, it’s likely to be at a point where they really need you right then and you may not be available.
Instead, be proactive. Take them food, flowers, or little gifts weeks or months after the death. Let them know they are remembered.
If you are taking food to someone who lives alone, a giant casserole is not a good idea,but that casserole divided into individual servings and wrapped for the freezer would be much appreciated.
Your presence matters
Sometimes we let our fear hinder us from doing what we would like to or what we think is best. This is not the time to let fear get in your way. Go to your friend and offer to listen, offer to help, offer to just be there. Offer to do practical things.
And remember to keep supporting your friend when all the celebrating is over and everyone goes home. She may appreciate your presence for weeks, months, or a lifetime.
This doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice what you do in your life, but you can be a good friend and love and support each other.
One of the things I do is send a note every week for a year to a friend who has lost a loved one. I’ve been told that this little reminder of love and support has helped a great deal.
What else can you do to help? My best answer is: something.
Allen Klein, MA, CSP
Former Director, Life-Death Transitions Institute, San Francisco | Author, “Embracing Life After Loss”
One thing you should not say is, “I know how you must be feeling”
Even though you may have lost someone in the past, you can’t really know how someone else is feeling in their loss. Each circumstance is different, each person handles a loss in a different way.
In one case, it might be a relief if the deceased had lived a long life and is no longer suffering after years of pain. On the other hand, the situation might be totally different if the deceased was young or the death sudden.
Acknowledge their pain
In addition, because of the quarantine and the current shelter in place, the person grieving may not have been able to be with their loved one while they were ill or when they passed. In addition, it was probably not possible to have the customary funeral, burial, or celebration of life memorial service.
The best one can do for someone who is grieving is to listen to what they are saying and acknowledge their pain. “I’m so sorry for your loss, this must be extremely difficult for you.” Then just be a good ear for them as they vent their feelings. If laughter comes up, laugh with them. If tears come up, cry with them.
A Comprehensive Guide to Reclaiming and Cultivating Joy and Carrying on in the Face of Loss
Rediscover sustained moments of joy as you seek a new way of being in the world. Loving and Living Your Way Through Grief guides and lightens the journey to positivity for those who feel the pain of loss, whether it is the loss of a loved one, a job, a marriage, a house, a pregnancy, a nest egg―anyone or anything that we loved and that is no longer in our lives. In this book, author and fellow griever Emily Thiroux Threatt provides you with strategies to embrace the process of learning how to start living again.
A Gentle Guide for Growing through Grief
Work through the depression of grief and loss with resilience: Losing a loved one is never easy. Allen Klein knows how it feels—just like you, he’s lost many loved ones in his life. Inspired by Klein’s experience with the loss of his wife, Embracing Life after Loss will help you to recover from grief and loss—just like Klein did.