our everyday life

What to Say to a Grieving Family After a Traumatic Death

by Candice Coleman, studioD

Losing a loved one can leave a family grief-stricken, and a traumatic death can be even more uncomfortable and difficult for those involved. They may find talking about the death difficult, or they may want to talk about it, but those around them are afraid to talk about the deceased for fear of causing more upset. While comforting those dealing with a traumatic death can be trying, there are several ways to bring comfort during this difficult time.

Avoid Platitudes

Well-meaning family and friends may want to ask the bereaved about the manner of death, but this should be avoided, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, if the grieving person brings up the traumatic death without prompting, take the time to listen. You should also avoid suggesting a positive side to the death, like saying, "at least she died quickly, so there wasn't much pain," or "she's in a better place," according to Everplans. Telling the grieving person not to worry, or making statements such as, "I don't know what I would do if that happened to my daughter," are also hurtful and do little to comfort a bereaved person. A listening ear and a shoulder to cry on are more helpful.

Written Sympathy

If you worry that you may inadvertently say something offensive to the grieving family, penning your thoughts can give you time to think over your words. Just as you would in person, avoid bringing up how the late person died. In your letter, you can include positive memories about the deceased, as well as give specific offers for help, according to the Emily Post Institute. You might write, "We were saddened to hear about Jacob's death. He was always there to help us and he was so kind. If we can do anything to help, like picking up Amanda from school, please let us know." If words are tough to come by, simply writing "We are sorry for your loss" can be enough.

Offering Sympathy

When someone passes away under tragic circumstances, people may change the subject when bereaved family bring it up. This can be hurtful to the grieving, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In these circumstances, you can say, "If you would like to talk more, I'm here to listen," or "This must be very difficult for you," according to Everplans. You can also ask the bereaved what you can do or say to help if you are at a loss. Other statements, such as, "I'm sorry," "She was a great person" or "I care about you," can also be comforting.

Other Considerations

Even after the funeral ends, periodically calling and asking the bereaved if they would like to talk can be beneficial, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is also wise to avoid telling the bereaved what to do, such as saying, "You shouldn't cry," or "Your dad wouldn't want you to be angry." Accept that the other person has his own feelings about the situation and how to process it. It can be helpful to validate the bereaved by saying, "It's okay to talk about it," or "It's okay to feel that way."

About the Author

Candice Coleman worked in the public school system as a middle school and high school substitute teacher. In addition to teaching, she is also a tutor for high school and college students.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images