How To Talk To Someone Who’s Grieving
When someone we care about is grieving, we often feel helpless and confused about what to say or how to help. Here are a few tips on how to talk to someone who’s just lost a loved one.
We’ve all had those moments, right? A friend or family member reaches out with the worst news possible: They lost someone.
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Immediately, we go into “What do I say?” mode, wondering how we could possibly make a person feel better in the wake of such devastating grief. We feel helpless, overwhelmed. We panic and second-guess ourselves.
Or worse — we don’t think at all. People say some pretty senseless, and even cruel, things simply because they haven’t walked in your shoes, and they don’t know the territory. They can’t know what you’re going through, so they don’t see the callousness in their words.
So how do we show up for our friends and family when they’re experiencing devastating grief?
Here are a few things you can say, as well as a few things not to say, when you talk to a grieving friend or family member.
What To Say To Someone Who’s Grieving
1. How are you?
This may seem incredibly basic, but you’d be surprised how often people avoid asking you this question if they think they can’t handle the answer. So if you can handle a real response — by listening, validating and asking questions — then please ask. It will make the world a lot less lonely for the person’s grieving in silence.
2. I don’t want to say anything that might hurt you. Would you tell me about some of the things that trigger you?
My son drowned, so hearing things like, “I’m drowning in work,” really triggered me in the beginning. Yes, people don’t know what you don’t tell them, but at the same time, it’s hard to volunteer something that personal. As a friend, one of the things you can do is ask about those hidden triggers.
3. I hear you. I see you. I’m here with you. I’m not going anywhere.
When you have no idea what else to say — because you can’t even begin to comprehend their pain — say this. You’re acknowledging the pain without saying you know how it feels.
4. Thank you for sharing that with me and trusting me.
Again, if you’re not sure how to handle the emotional weight of your friend’s grief, then don’t pretend to. It’s ok to admit you don’t have all the answers; no one wants you to anyway. Your friend just needs someone who can listen with their whole heart — and leave the judgments and advice at the door.
5. Honestly, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never experienced this before. I just want you to know I love you.
When you really don’t know what to say, this is the best place to start. Get it out in the open. You will feel so much better, and your friend will feel so grateful that you’re sticking with them, even though this is completely out of your comfort zone or experience.
What Not To Say To Someone Who’s Grieving
1. Nothing at all.
The worst thing you can do is act like it didn’t happen at all. Sticking to surface-level conversation when the other person is struggling inside is insensitive. Don’t avoid the subject or the person who’s grieving. It’s can be extremely hurtful.
2. He’s in a better place now — OR — God needed another angel.
Here’s the thing: You don’t know what someone else believes, especially when it comes to religion and loss. By suggesting someone’s loved one is better off in heaven, you could unintentionally offend or anger the person who’s grieving. The bottom line is you don’t want to assume the person who’s grieving believes the same thing you do. Even if your friend shares the same beliefs, loss can make even the most faithful question things.
3. It’s time to move on.
No matter how long it takes to get past the most debilitating stages of grief, you cannot tell someone who’s grieving that it’s time to get past their pain. If they could, they would. And no one has a say in their grieving process except the griever and their mental health professional.
4. I know how you feel.
Even if you also experienced loss, it’s never appropriate to tell someone you know how they feel. It’s dismissive, and it’s simply not true. There’s no way to know how someone feels during the grieving process. Everyone experiences grief differently. A mother and father who lost a child will likely have completely different experiences, even though they shared the trauma.
5. At least … you still have other kids.
Don’t try to make the situation better by pointing out a silver lining. That may sound like: at least you still have other kids; at least you’re still young, and there will be others; at least you have your husband to go through this with you. Looking for a silver lining often comes across as dismissing the person’s pain. Also, comparing their situation to another person’s situation — especially to make them feel grateful it wasn’t worse — is dangerous territory. Let the person who’s grieving find their own gratitude, in their own time.
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What made you feel better in your moment of grief? What can people say to comfort you?
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