My Condolences: What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
"I'm sorry for your loss."
That's the traditional way to sign sympathy cards and offer condolences, but when the grieving person is close to you, it's only natural to try to offer more.
Unfortunately for many people, it’s difficult to find the right words when someone is in the process of grieving for a loved one.
"Everyone is different in their grieving process," says Crossroads Hospice Bereavement Coordinator Kai Martin. "Sometimes it's better to sit and say nothing. Just hold their hand and listen. Don't be afraid of tears and don't be afraid to talk about the person."
Crossroads Hospice Bereavement Coordinator Ann McClintick adds, "Listen and allow them to say their loved one's name out loud. Inviting them to talk about their loved one gives them the permission they need so the person they've lost is no longer like the elephant in the room."
There are a number of steps you can take to comfort your loved one, including requesting for them a free copy of our grief booklet, The Journey After. Additionally, there are many gestures you can make to help someone who is grieving get through each day. Here are a few to keep in mind.
Offer Specific Help
Many people will say "Let me know if you need anything," but Martin recommends tying to offer the things you can and will do. Some suggestions include:
- "How about I bring you something to eat tonight?"
- "Can I watch the kids for you?"
- "Can I help out with the pets?"
Follow up on your offer by calling to check on them. After the initial loss, many friends are unsure of what to say and retreat to the background. Martin says, "They'd rather you call them. Acknowledge that you know it's difficult for them right now."
Don't Give Tips or Diminish Their Loss
"Everyone is different," says Martin. It can be helpful to remind grievers that there is no timeline that everyone follows. "It gives the mourner permission to be where they are."
While spiritual or religious comments come from a good place, words like "They're in a better place" can be inadvertently hurtful. It is much better to simply let people know you're there for them by saying, "I don't know how you feel, but I want to help however I can," or "We'll get through this together."
Be a Source of Strength
Grief Expert David Kessler co-authored two bestsellers with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. He recommends being supportive without trying to fix the situation. In his piece, 10 Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief, he says: "Keep in mind when trying to find the right words to say to someone in grief — context, timing and who is saying them is everything!"
McClintick recommends that those who have suffered a loss should try to find a safe network where they can communicate grief and loss. Grief support groups are a safe place to find that outlet if they're not finding support in their day-to-day lives.
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