Share Comfort and Offer Relief
When someone dies, you may not know what to say. Your heart hurts along with your friend's or loved one's, and you want to share that you care, but somehow, words fail. Your deepest desire is to offer words that are comforting but also provide some kind of relief. Perhaps you worry that if you say the wrong thing, it will make the bereaved person's pain even worse. Learn how to speak from the heart in an authentic, genuine way without trying to fix the person's pain.
Grief is a lonely roller coaster of emotions that comes in all-encompassing waves at the craziest of times. When you don't know what to say but want to be there for your loved one, say exactly that. Offer to stay as your friend or family member experiences the intensity of a variety of emotions. Sit next to her while she cries, bring dinner, offer child care or watch movies with her when sleep is impossible. Simply being present gives her the gift of feeling supported at one of the most difficult times of her life, along with knowing she's loved and accepted.
People who are grieving often need to process their thoughts, emotions and memories out loud without being interrupted or feeling judged. Let your loved one know that it is your honor to listen any time he needs to talk or is feeling alone. Offer your phone number if he doesn't already have it, so he can call when he needs an ear. Sometimes, it's too much to remember to call a friend for help when grief is overwhelming, so perhaps offer to call every week or more often to see how he's doing and simply listen to whatever he needs to share or vent.
If you share common spiritual beliefs with the bereaved person, it may be helpful to relate your experiences on a deep and meaningful level. Be cautious not to offer trite platitudes that try to band-aid or fix the pain in an instant. Instead, focus on how comfort for overwhelming emotions often comes through practicing faith, reading sacred texts, saying prayers, performing some kind of ritual or meditating. Ask your loved one what is helpful spiritually and be available to walk with her through the spiritual part of grieving.
If you have been through your own difficult losses and grief, feel free to share that briefly with your friend to let her know that she isn't alone. Tell her that you know that grief is different for everyone and that you understand how unpredictable it can be. Perhaps recount a few of the most- and least-supportive things people said or did for you while you were grieving. Your stories are likely to relieve a sense of isolation and perhaps even offer some comic relief.
When You Really Cannot Find the Words
Sometimes words literally fail. If you find yourself welling up with tears as you come face to face with your loved one, relate to him authentically from that place. A simple, "Words fail, sweet friend. I love you," followed by a hug or an arm around the shoulder shows that you care without saying anything. Ask before you hug or touch someone, as sometimes intense emotions make physical touch overwhelming.
Helping Children Understand
Grief and mortality are difficult subjects for children to understand. If you have spiritual beliefs about life and death, this is an opportunity to share those with the children in your life. Children are naturally curious and wonder what everything means. Let them know that strong emotions are normal when they miss someone who has passed away. Those feelings are evidence of great love and how much a person means to those around them. Invite children to draw pictures with you, listen to music or write poetry. Grief is a beautiful time to show children emotional acceptance and the beauty of the full spectrum of emotions.
In the first few weeks following a death, the bereaved person often experiences a flood of support in the form of sympathy cards, meals, and people coming in and out of the home. Once this initial support wears off, deep loneliness is common. Life gets quiet, and emotions seem to get bigger. Provide your loving support for the long term―after the hard and lonely work of grief truly sets in.
- Journal of Mental Health Counseling: Helping Bereaved Children and Adolescents: Strategies and Implications for Counselors
- Death Education: Responding to the Bereaved: An Analysis of "Helping" Statements
- Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology: Social Support for the Bereaved: Recipients' and Providers' Perspectives on What is Helpful
- Communication Research: Does God Matter? Religious Content and the Evaluation of Comforting Messages in the Context of Bereavement
- Journal of Death and Dying: Bereavement Following Suicide and Other Deaths: Why Support Attempts Fail
- Psychology Today: Five Things to Say or Do for the Bereaved
- Psychology Today: Five Things Not to Say to the Bereaved
- CaringInfo: Supporting Friends or Family Who Are Grieving
- Psychology Today: What Grieving Friends Wish You'd Say
Anne Kinsey is a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach and missionary, residing in rural North Carolina. She is the founding executive director of Love Powered Life, a nonprofit organization with the mission of creating loving community for trafficking survivors and their families. Anne has enjoyed writing for publications like Our Everyday Life, Bizfluent, Career Trend, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle. She resides in rural North Carolina with her husband, three children and a house full of furry friends.