Check out my tips on what to say and do for a grieving friend or family member.
Don’t let the fear saying or doing the wrong thing deter you from your friend or family member. The best gift you can give is you. You will develop a stronger and deeper relationship and they will have your back in return. The following are my tips that I have learned when I suffered a loss and help my friends and family.
Tip 1: Let your love and actions speak for you.
I recently came across an honest and heartfelt article, “Why I ‘ghosted’ my grieving friends: I wanted to help but didn’t know how”. It does a great job of explaining why people are afraid of dealing with loss through the author’s experience and perspective. However, avoiding a person because you are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing can lead to losing that relationship.
Often a person suffering from a loss is lost or even isolated in their own head and heart causing a perpetual state of confusion. It’s an early coping mechanism. I know I was. I walked around in a constant fog. I even had buzzing in my ears and questions just confused me. I am forever grateful to my friends who came in, hugged me, and saw something undone and finished it for me. No questions asked.
For example, one friend came and vacuumed and mopped my floors. Another came and cleaned out / reorganized my kitchen and refrigerator. He had worked in food service for years and made my kitchen more efficient. Something I didn’t know I needed but made life easier. Especially when I was taking care of a baby and my mom’s hospice needs. Another friend came and sat with my mom and son. I was able to shower or go to the store.
List of appreciated actions:
- Give hugs
- Drop off an easy to reheat meals
- Offer to watch the kids
- Offer to run errands
- Do their dishes
- Handle a funeral arrangement
- Get them out of the house by going to a park, mall, movie, coffee shop, or frozen yogurt (my retreat/escape)
- I loaned a friend my Kindle full of supernatural thrillers, urban fictions, and classics. So she had something to do on sleepless nights.
- Start a funeral and memorial stationery store online (just kidding!)
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing that you don’t say anything at all.
I feel that most grieving people can forgive our sometimes clunky, but wholehearted attempts to be present with their grief. If you can’t be there in person or feel like your life events could be “rubbing it in” try asking the following questions:
- “I wanted to tell you about some big news I got, but that feels insensitive. Do you want to hear about it or save it for another day?”
- “Is today a good day to talk?”
- “Do you want to talk about your mom/dad/child or anything but?”
- “Is it annoying to send silly texts or do you like the distraction?”
Avoid the following cliches when possible: (Check out this article on why these sayings should always be avoided.)
- She/He’s in a better place
- God doesn’t give you more than you can handle
- God has a will in this. / There is a reason for everything. / God is in control.
- I know how you feel.
- You can have another child. / At least you have other kids.
- It was his time to go.
- You have to be strong for X…
- Is there anything I can do for you?
- How are you doing?
Tip 3: Be Present, listen and try to be empathic
What’s especially difficult is that everyone’s grief is so personal and it varies from day to day. What may be the right answer one day might be totally wrong for another. Mental-health therapist Megan Devine has a good way of stating how to be present for a friend suffering a loss. On her blog, Refuge in Grief, she wrote: “My job is not to make this better. My job is to tolerate my own helplessness in the face of her pain, without trying to relieve that helplessness by offering platitudes or false comfort. My job is to know that showing up, being present, acknowledging the truth that this hurts, this hurts, this hurts is the best way I can love my friend.”
Almost a year ago, one of my best friends, who took care of me during the loss of my mom, had a sudden and terrible loss of a sibling. As an only child, I had a hard time relating to that type of loss. Especially since I had 3 months of Hospice with my mom. However, I was there in person. If she wanted to zone out in front of the TV, we zoned out. If she wanted to tell stories, I listened. If she wanted her hand held, I held it. When she wanted to tell me what happened, I listened.
Do you have any tips or suggestions? Please share in the comments.