Last week was a tough week. Two dear friends both buried their Fathers. I can’t imagine the pain and sadness they must be going through. Thinking of them reminded me it would be a good time to talk about how we can help our friends who are grieving. What should we say? More importantly what shouldn’t we say? What else can we do to be there for them?
WHAT TO SAY
“I can’t imagine how heartbreaking this must be for you.” – Grief is about a broken heart. How do you even begin to understand how that feels for your friend? This statement indicates that you respect how sad and difficult their grief must be for them.
“I really don’t know what to say.” – Words can’t even describe the feelings associated with grief. Saying you “don’t know what to say” is one of the most honest answers you can give. This way your friend knows you are not trying to judge, analyze or fix them.
“I am so sorry for your loss.” – Sorry in this sense means to be sad or mournful. It reminds your friend that you are also sad for their loss. It’s another way of answering them honestly.
“Can I give you a hug?” – Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, said “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” Hugs reduce the amount of stress in our bodies. Grieving is one of the most stressful events in our lives. Offering a hug (or two) to your friend will be good for their emotional, physical and spiritual health.
“What happened?” – Grievers need and want tell their story. They want you to hear and understand to what they have to say about their loved one. Don’t avoid talking about them. The most loving thing you can do for your friend is to listen without judgement. Be a “heart with ears.”
WHAT NOT TO SAY
“I know how you feel.” – Grief is individual and unique. Even if you have had a similar loss in your own life, you don’t know how your friend is really feeling. Comparing losses robs your friend of their dignity. It would be better to say “I can relate to your loss” instead of “I know how you feel.”
“Be strong.” – Telling your friend to “be strong” is actually asking them to hide their grief. This is the worst thing they could do. Showing their emotions will help them to heal. It will also show those round them that grieving is a normal and natural part of being human. This is especially important if your friend has any children. Children need to see that it is okay to express both happy and sad emotions.
“At least they are not suffering anymore.” – If your friend’s loved one died of a long-term illness, it might be intellectually true their suffering is over, but that doesn’t change the fact your friend’s heart is still broken from the loss. Even though they can rationalize this statement in their head, saying it doesn’t help their heart to feel any better.
“Be grateful for the time you had together.” – We are all grateful for the time we have been able to share with our loved ones. However, this statement may make your friend feel they can’t be sad about their loved one’s death. In reality, it is okay to be both grateful for the time they spent with their loved one and sad they have died.
“Everything happens for a reason.” – We have to be careful when we say this because it may or may not be true for your friend depending on their spiritual beliefs. Even if it is spiritually or intellectually true for them, it won’t help your friend’s heart to feel any better.
“Just give it time.” – It would be nice if grief had a time limit but unfortunately it doesn’t. People who have experienced a death more than 10 or 20 years ago still feel the sadness. Time does not heal. Your friend may be able to cope better with the death after some period of time, but they will never get over the loss.
WHAT ALSO MIGHT HELP
Just listen – This by far is the best gift you can give your friend. It’s important your friend feels they are being heard. Let them talk about their loved one. Let them share their stories. Being heard helps them to heal.
Reach Out – Grievers get a lot of attention after losing a loved one, but they tend to get forgotten after only a few weeks. Give your friend a call or invite them to coffee to see how they are really doing.
Send a card or letter with your memories of their loved one – Sharing your own personal memories of your friend’s loved one in a card or letter will remind them their loved one mattered to you. Too many times people won’t even speak about someone who has died. Sharing your memories will help your friend know it is okay to talk about and remember their loved one.
Send a “Grief” care package – There are some beautiful grief-specific care packages you can send. Some companies even offer a subscription service where you can send gifts over a period of months. These companies include (I am not a paid affiliate): Healing Baskets, The Comfort Company, Sympathy Solutions, Gift Basket Village, or Gift Tree.
Send or Bring a Meal – One of the last things your friend may want to do when they are grieving is cook. There are many companies that will send fully prepared meals. Some of them include (I am not a paid affiliate): Sympathy Food, Send-A-Meal, Family Chef and Impromptu Gourmet.
Send a donation – Honor your friend’s loved one by donating to their favorite charity or an organization that helped them get through a tough illness or difficult period in their life.
Be patient – Grief is not on any timeline. Be patient with your friend. Understand they are on their own grief path. Don’t push them to “be finished.” Understand it could take forever.
If you are interested in learning more, watch our FREE On Demand Webinar, Beyond the Casserole.
Sending you love, comfort and peace!