What to Say to a Grieving Person
In another video, I covered the 5 Things You Should STOP Saying to Grieving People. The problem with all of those statements was that they could be interpreted as creating DISCONNECTION between you and your grieving friend. In other words, the statements were ways to remind them how different, how alone, how lost they are – even though your intention was to be supportive and caring.
The key to saying supportive, helpful things to a recently bereaved person is to make sure that your statement builds connection and support – or at least doesn’t create disconnection.
Perhaps the most common statement is “I’m sorry for your loss.” This is probably the safest thing you can say. Some people feel that this has almost become a cliché – but I think it is a nice safe statement and can be helpful – especially in situations when you don’t know the grieving person very well.
A slightly different version of this is – and a phrase that I use frequently – is “I’m so sorry you’re hurting.” It may not sound all that different, but I’m assuming that all of us really are sorry that our grieving friends and family are experiencing the pain of grief.
It’s OK to communicate that you’re not quite sure what to say or do – something like, “I’m not sure what to say right now, but I want you to know I’ll be here for you.” An honest expression of not knowing what to say is much better than something that you think is helpful, but is actually painful to hear.
If you know the bereaved pretty well, but didn’t know the deceased, you can say something like “I wish I had known him” or “I wish I could have known her better.” I think most of us want to hear that our loved one was someone worth knowing. If you’re pretty close with the bereaved person, you can go a step further and ask something like “what do you want people to always remember about him?” It could give your friend a chance to talk about a special story or memory.
Those are some of the safer statements that you can make to a recently bereaved friend or family member. In general, it’s best to keep it simple and not put pressure on yourself to come up with something that sounds profound or wise – at least I always get into trouble when I do that.
If your favorite phrase is not here, you might check out my other video. It could be that your well-intentioned statement may not be the best thing to say. More importantly, remember that the best thing you can do for a grieving friend is NOT to SAY something, but to listen without judgment to whatever they want to talk about. And to continue to be around them and give them opportunities to do things they want to do – like socialize, go out to eat, or simply go for a walk. Really being there for them over the long haul is far more important than almost any statement you make to them.