BY LISA DOSS AND DENISE HEIDEL
Grief is a profoundly personal emotion, and when people are in seasons of grief, specific responses may trigger additional pain or even anger. With that said, it’s hard to know how to respond to someone who is grieving. A first step, though, is acknowledging that all grief doesn’t look the same. Nor does a similar loss elicit a one-size-fits-all response. While you may be afraid of saying the wrong thing at such a difficult time, please don’t let your discomfort prevent you from reaching out to a friend who is grieving.
WHAT TO SAY
- Nothing. Sometimes there are no words, and silence is a kind reaction. Your presence speaks more than anything you can say. And speaking from your heart to say, “I don’t know what to say,” is a heartfelt response.
- “I know you’re hurting.”An acknowledgment of the emotional pain is essential. It validates feelings that the griever may not be able to put into words.
- “I’m here to listen.” The griever may not want to talk, but often – they do. Let the griever know you are there to listen, even if it means listening to them cry. People avoid those who are grieving thinking they want to be alone or need “time.” Often — the griever needs your presence. They just need your understanding that allows them the opportunity to grieve.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
- “I’m sorry (for your loss).” Even though the sentiment is on greetings cards for the purpose to offer sympathy, the word “sorry” cannot accurately express the meaning behind the loss. Next time, say, “I am praying for you!” Grievers are frozen in a pain that requires support and prayer.
- “I know how you feel.” Frankly, no, you don’t. You may understand the feelings of grief through personal experiences, but just as every relationship is unique; so is every loss. A better response is to say, “I know you’re hurting,” which acknowledges the pain but takes into account that their grief is personal.
- “What can I do?” The question can be a burden on a griever. They may not know how to answer because their world has stopped. They are numb and trying to remember how to put one foot in front of another. They don’t want to give you a to-do list of what you can do to help; instead, be proactive and plan to keep in touch by calling, texting, and continuing to support your friend.
- Social Media. While you may experience sorrowful emotions out of respect for the people who were closest to the loss, give them the social media platform first, and follow their lead. In the case, for instance, of your dearly departed uncle’s birthday – wait for his wife or his children to acknowledge the day before posting. It’s an unspoken courtesy that you can extend.
- Speak the Name Out Loud: Grief is not a single instance or resolved during the funeral. Despite the griever’s heart, their loved one’s name carries bursting levels of happiness and memories. Saying his or her name out loud contributes to acceptance and healing.
- Share Memories:Think of all the memories you have invested in each person you love – millions of events fostered through years of calendar days. The act of sharing stories, whether through laughter or tears, helps the memory of the departed to live forever.
After the funeral and burial, most people return to their everyday lives, while the bereaved try to fit their shattered puzzle back together. Witnessing the loss of life with your family or friend is just a courteous first step. Words are not as important as actions. Hold their hand. Call. Visit. And do not change one aspect of your friendship. Grievers can heal in their own time with unconditional support and love from family and friends. The shock of death happens to all of us. In the event you succumb to a state of mourning, your friend will be there to hold your hand and listen. Friendship can be fearless. Death does not have to sever a long-term relationship. With hope, the strength of love can help you overcome all obstacles, especially the pain of loss.