What Do I Say to a Grieving Person?

What Do I Say to a Grieving Person?

A person you know has just died…a neighbor, a church member, a co-worker’s family member.  You are touched and want to show the family that you care.  What do you say?  How do you let them know you care without saying something stupid?

Here are some commonly used phrases you may want to consider avoiding in the future:

  • “How are you doing?”  – The hurting person will not tell you the truth because (a) they don’t think you really care (b) you are not in the right place to have time to listen to the whole story of how they are doing (c) they don’t believe you will like what you hear and that you may look at them with disdain if you knew the truth.
  • I know how you feel” –  You just robbed the person of his/her unique identity.  No one knows how you feel about things.  Why would you assume to know them so very well?  This also starts to make their situation about you, its not.
  • Call me if you need anything” –  This is usually useless.  While it gives you a few words to escape out the door with, at no time have I sat thinking to myself “now I am going to call _____ to ask them to mow my yard and take me to lunch because I am having a bad day”.  Think about it, how often has someone actually called you after you have made this statement?
  • It’s for the best.   He’s at peace now.  She’s in a better place.  He’s not suffering anymore.  It’s a blessing.” – Cheery words or looking on the bright side.  But these words shame the hurting person into feeling something they are not yet ready to feel.  Let them reach these conclusions.  Don’t tell them how they should be looking at things.  They may not be ready to feel this way.

Another good tip to remember is to use personal experiences sparingly.  Remember that your conversation with a suffering person is not about you and the other person.  It is strictly about the one suffering.  The more you are able to focus on the suffering, the better friend you are to that suffering person.  LISTEN, then LISTEN some more.

In most circumstances, the only words you need to say to the suffering are:  “I am so sorry.”  Beyond that, keep quiet and prepare in your mind what you may be able to do for the family in the days ahead.  Remember that the commotion of the funeral will be over in a few days and the grieved will still need a listening ear, a casserole, a meal out, or just a phone call.  Don’t drop the ball now.

The content of the above article was taken from the book: Don’t Sing Songs to a Heavy Heart, by Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph.D.