Anyone who’s approached someone who’s recently lost a loved one has gone through the agonizing process of deciding what to say. You don’t want to say the wrong thing and you don’t want to sound trite. You wonder if it would be best not to say anything at all but somehow that doesn’t seem right.
In the end, it is not really what you say, but the support you offer that is important. Here are some tips to help you to talk to someone who has lost a loved one.
Acknowledge the Circumstances
Say something simple like, “I heard that your mom passed.” Just a simple acknowledgement that you know what has happened.
Show That You Care
“I am so sorry for your loss.” “I’m available to help you in any way possible.”
Ask How He or She is Feeling
Emotions go on a rampage during the grieving process, and often fluctuate wildly. So don’t assume you know what the person is feeling. Rather than saying the wrong thing, simply ask how they are feeling. That will give you an indication of what to say next.
Let Them Express Their Emotions
Let them know that it’s okay to cry, or to yell, or to do whatever they feel they need to do at the moment. Remember, though, that it’s also okay if they are not ready to express their emotions at this point. Do not judge their reactions, simply be there for them, and support them. The grieving process is very different for each person, and everyone needs to go through the process in his or her own way.
Do not attempt to minimize their loss, or provide simple solutions. It is also not a good idea to offer unsolicited advice. Simply listen. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, admit that you don’t know the answer rather than trying to make something up on the spot.
If they don’t want to talk, be willing to simply sit with them. Depending on your relationship, hold their or hand or give them a hug. Your presence is often enough to provide comfort in times of grief.
Offer to Help
Don’t simply ask what you can do to help. It is unlikely they will be willing to ask to for help or simply won’t know what kind of help they need. They are likely in a fog, not even sure of what their next steps will be. Be specific in your offer to help. Offer to bring over a meal or to help make phone calls. Offer to help with funeral arrangements or to simply sit with them and keep them company.
Some Examples of What to Say
I cannot tell you how sorry I am. I promise to keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.
I am sorry to hear that your dad passed away. I am available whenever you need to talk.
Your sister will be missed.
My favorite memory of your grandmother was when she taught me how to cook lasagna. She was an amazing woman.
There are simply no words.
Tell me more about your grandfather.
I won’t forget her.
I love you.
I am here for you.
You will never get over your loss, but you will get through it.
There is no way I can truly understand your loss, but I am here for you.
It’s okay to cry. Just lean on me.
My life is better because your wife was part of it.
Keep it simple, don’t start rambling on and on. Maintain eye contact with the person when you talk to them. Contact is often very important – put your hand on their arm when talking to them or give them a hug. You are there to support them and let them know that you care.