How do you know what not to say to someone who is grieving?
If we are honest with ourselves most of us are unsure what words of comfort we can offer. Almost every one of us is uncomfortable talking to someone who is grieving.
That is a normal feeling! But we must be present for the bereaved no matter how we feel!
“I know just how you feel.” A dear friend of mine says that people would say this to her – and they truly meant well.
But for her, it invalidated her individual grief. They were not her and did not have the same relationship to her husband. She said even if another woman had lost her husband, they had not been the same people as she and her spouse were.
For her these words ended up feeling hurtful instead of helpful.
Wilfred Bockelman in his book Finding the Right Words quotes one woman as saying that when well-meaning people would say some blunder, she understood that they cared for her and were making an attempt to console her.
- Bockelman also contends that it is better to say something in an attempt to console than to say nothing at all - remaining distant, or even worse making no contact at all.
Perhaps the way to avoid making a blunder is to speak less and listen more. Ask questions, and then simply listen. When I am nervous I tend to talk, it can be helpful to concentrate on saying less.
They do not need any deep words of wisdom, they need our loving and supportive presence. And DO NOT judge! We cannot fully understand what they are feeling.
-This is a sentence that I myself have said and meant! It has been said to me and my mother, but when you are grieving you don’t have the energy or feel comfortable calling that person for help. If you want to help, ask specifically what the needs are and try to fill them.
Cathy Peterson’s wonderful book - Call Me If You Need Anything is full of practical ideas of what to say and do for the bereaved.
Let the bereaved lead the way. Ask questions and then really listen. Let them talk and make no judgments.
They will go through different stages in their grief journey. It is very important that they do not feel condemned for the emotion they are currently feeling.
So it is not so much about what not to say as it is about just being there. Do not worry about whether or not you are doing it right, just stay involved.
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