And what in the world do we say to someone who is grieving?
As a mother who has lost a child in a tragic school bus accident when he was just 9 years old, I have wandered around through deep, engulfing grief. I have experienced the comfort of sincere, heart-felt words of sympathy, as well as insensitive, though well meant words that really hurt.
These days I hear the voice of the caring friend, family member, or even the internet comment giver, deeply desiring to leave words of comfort, but stumbling awkwardly, not knowing what to say. In my heart I know grief is a topic that will never grow old, and those of us who have personally waded through it, if able, can share their words of wisdom in guiding others more comfortably through. Below, I have inserted an article I wrote from my experience on what to say and what not to say to someone grieving. I hope you find it helpful.
With a full heart,
GOOD GRIEF: WHAT TO SAY AND WHAT NOT TO SAY
TO SOMEONE WHO IS GRIEVING
Have you ever found yourself struggling to say the right thing to someone who has lost a loved one? Maybe you were afraid your words might make them feel worse or make them cry? Rest assured, you are not alone. Expressing your sympathy to someone who is grieving can be awkward and uncomfortable. With a few simple guidelines, however, thoughtful words of sympathy can be sincerely expressed.
To begin, we must first realize that there is nothing we can say or do that will make a bereaved person feel better or hurt less. Grief is not merely an emotion we feel, nor is it something we simply get over. Rather, the loss of a loved one is an ever present emptiness we somehow learn to live with. Consider Sigmund Freud’s insightful words:
"We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else."
In my experience, Freud’s words proved true indeed. In grieving the loss of my little boy to a tragic school bus accident when he was only nine, there were no words or actions which could ease the gaping wound in my heart. However, in the midst of my deepest mourning, a sincere hug and “I am so sorry for your loss”, or “I am praying for you” were very comforting.
Listed below is a helpful guideline focused on words frequently said to the bereaved which I found to be either comforting and helpful, or confusing and hurtful.
Things You Might Say to Someone Who is Grieving
If you are comfortable with the grieving person, then make eye contact, touch them, take his or her hand or give a sincere hug as you say:
If you don’t know the person well, or are afraid you might break down and make their pain worse, try to be simple, open and sincere when you say,
Beyond What To Say: What to Do
Things NOT to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
When contemplating words of sympathy to the bereaved, please understand that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no set timetable or pattern within the stages of grief, which are: shock and numbness, denial, guilt, pain and deep sorrow, anger, depression, and acceptance. Each of these stages is normal and essential to healing, and the order and duration of each will vary. Any stage may be visited many times during the grieving process.In reflection of losing her brother and later her father, my daughter Tiffany stated, “Sometimes it wasn't so much about what they said, it was about them being there, supporting me, letting me talk. Sometimes I just wanted someone to sit with me.” Her words sum it up perfectly. If you find yourself at a loss for words, remember - a human touch, soft eye contact, and just being there to listen will always be the right comfort.