Carefully Choosing Words of Comfort
Even though it’s an inevitable part of life, death remains a taboo subject that many people simply don’t feel comfortable thinking about, let alone talking about. Even if you are not the type ever to be at a loss for words, it can be challenging to find the right thing to comfort someone whose family member is at death’s door. While no magic words or phrases make the situation any better, what you say (and sometimes what you don’t say) can help provide some comfort to your loved one by letting him know that you care and are willing to be there for him.
Mindful Words of Comfort
Be mindful of the words you use to comfort someone who is grieving through the impending loss of someone she loves. When choosing your words, consider how you would feel if the situation were reversed and those words were said to you. The best words are those that empathize, offer gentle support and validate her feelings.
Tell her that you are sorry for what she is going through. Admit to her that you wish you knew what to say and that you just want her to know how much you care. Tell her that you can’t imagine what she must be feeling but that you are available to help in any way possible. Share a favorite memory of her family member or remind her that you are always just a phone call away if she needs to talk. Let her know that she and her family member will be in your thoughts and prayers.
Embrace the Silence
Silence often makes people uncomfortable, but sometimes, silence is more helpful than filling it with words only designed only to take up space. If you’re trying to comfort someone whose family member is dying and he gives you the impression that he doesn’t want to talk about it, show your support by joining him in his silence. Offer a hug or a gentle pat on the back, and just be present. Your presence alone can offer an unspoken comfort that may not be as easily achieved with words.
Clichés to Avoid
Saying nothing is definitely better than saying something wrong. While often fueled by good intentions, many clichéd phrases that people mindlessly blurt out to those who are grieving might actually do more harm than good. For example, telling someone that his family member has gone to a “better place” is unlikely to win you brownie points for comforting words. Don’t tell him that you know how he feels, because even if you think you do, you don’t, really, and saying that you do only invalidates his unique feelings about the situation. You also should avoid assuring him that “everything happens for a reason” because there is no comfort in losing someone you love regardless of the reason for it.
Kristina Barroso earned a B.A. in Psychology from Florida International University. She is happily married, works full-time as a public school teacher and enjoys mothering her 5-year-old daughter and 14-year-old stepson. She has also fostered several children and loves writing about parenting, families, education and relationships on WorkingMother.com and TheClassroom.com.