What to say to someone grieving

Have you thought about what we say to people dealing with the death of a loved one?
Grief comes with a huge range of emotions from regret, remorse and anger to anguish, longing, and sorrow – and everything in between. The journey of grief is a lonely one through the darkest of life’s valleys. What we say to someone grieving while in this vulnerable state can easily add to their load of hurt and suffering.

Imagine you are in the worst emotional pain ever. It’s overwhelming and seems more than you can bear. Your spouse, the person you love and made a life with, is now dead. Their death left a huge gaping hole in your life. It’s as though half the page of your story is ripped away and gone. And half the page is gone from every day of your future. Today there is a gaping bleeding wound. And it will be there for the rest of your life.

You desperately want things to go back to the way they were. You want your loved one back. You are barely holding it together when someone comes along and says, “They are in a better place.”

You think, I guess living with me was not the better place. This person must think I’m a horrible person if death is better than living with me.

So many things people say to the person grieving are very painful to hear. Many of the common platitudes are not kind, caring and supportive words. They are like another stab wound in an already far too damaged heart. The one grieving then has to deal with feelings of inadequacy (because they weren’t good enough), anger (because they have to deal with more lousy feelings), frustration (because they can’t make people stop saying unsupportive things), loneliness (because those around them don’t seem to care or understand), and alienation (because it is simpler to walk away from friendship than to deal with more pain, when grief in itself is too much).

So what can you say to someone grieving?

If you don’t know them well, keep it simple. Tell them you are sorry for their loss. Ask if they want to talk about their loved one. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they just can’t.

If you do know them well, recognize everyone deals with grief and loss in their own unique way. Find a way to honour your friend’s journey with grief. That may mean sitting quietly together over a cup of tea. It may mean telling stories of their loved one. They may want to talk about their journey with grief. They might rather talk about your life so they can get away from their thoughts. Ask what you can do and what they need. If they don’t know, they may be in mental shock and can’t answer your questions. Take a look at their life. They may need food in the freezer, or bathrooms to be cleaned or phone calls to be made. They may even appreciate an outing – to the garden centre, to see a show, or to a concert. If they back out of a planned outing, understand that grief is totally unpredictable. The tsunami of emotion can hit anytime. Accept they are doing the best they can. If they need to cry, that’s okay. If they are angry, that’s okay too. They have a lot of emotion to deal with, and a friend that understands them is probably what they need the most. Become that rare friend that is a cushion of gentle, patient, caring support.

For more information on helping a grieving friend, watch for Supporting Honest Grief (to be released in the spring of 2018)

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