Grief is an uncomfortable emotion and not knowing what to say is very common, but there are at least 10 things that a grieving person wishes you would say. Grief can look different depending on the circumstances. The grieving person may be dealing with the major illness of a loved one who is still living, or the sudden loss of a child. How can we best be of help to our loved ones at a time like this?
10 Things to Say To A Grieving Person
Depending on how much time has passed since the sad event that changed their life, it can be difficult to know what a grieving person wishes you would say. Rather than say something that feels awkward to us, we sometimes don’t say anything. That can be the worst thing you could possibly do for a grieving person.
1. I cannot possibly know the pain that you’re experiencing
And you can’t, because each person grieves individually and in different ways. Their experience of the loss is different from your own. Don’t try to compare.
2. Crying is perfectly normal and this is a safe place to do it
Make your friend feel comfortable with tears. Often, people feel embarrassed about crying in front of other people so they are hide their tears or ask you to leave so they can cry privately. Let them know that you’re comfortable with tears and there is no judgment.
3. Crying is perfectly healthy and this is a safe place to do it
In his book, The Nature of Grief: The Evolution and Psychology of Reactions to Loss, author John Archer says crying is cathartic, and it may serve several healthy purposes for us as we heal. Crying is an emotional release of overwhelming sadness in the body. Crying is an emotional outburst, and it can be seen as a social tool, as in a cry for help from the bereaved. We are rarely processing thoughts as we cry, but are just allowing the emotion to flow out of us in waves like a river flowing to the ocean.
4. You don’t have to talk about your emotions
The grieving person isn’t always willing or able to talk about the loss. A grieving person wishes you would let them know that you have no expectations for their willingness to talk about it with you. If they do, great, you’ll be there for them, and if not, you’re not going anywhere.
5. I would love to see you again tomorrow. Is after 10:00 going to be ok?
In the worst of it, someone who is grieving a deep depression will not be able to help themselves see any positives. Forcing the issue of breaking their social isolation is really the best thing, to at least try, for a grieving person.
6. Remind them of a happy shared experience
Nothing can remove the grief that a person is experiencing, but you can help minimize it by incorporating joyful memories. ‘Did I tell you about the time that I spilled my latte all over myself, just as Willie Nelson was opening the door for me at Starbucks?’
7. What did you like to do in art class when you were in school?
This may seem like a strange question to ask, but there’s a reason for it. Researchers have found that artistic expression is an effective way of dealing with grief. Researchers looked at cancer patients who were going through the process of coping after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Although a diagnosis with cancer is not the same as having a loved one pass away, both a grieving person and a person diagnosed with cancer start the grieving process in basically the same ways.
The researchers say ‘The objectives of art therapy are to use the creative process to allow awareness and expression of an individual’s deepest emotions. For people with cancer, these emotions may be about the illness, hospitalization, relationships, or other concerns. The meaning and the power of these emotions often are not easily articulated using verbal communication. It is the art itself that provides a vehicle for expression, aided by the actual physical movement of artistic materials.’ Art therapy reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, tiredness, as well as improved appetite and feelings of well-being.
8. Did I tell you about _____?
Sometimes grief makes us feel socially awkward around a person, like we aren’t sure what to say to them as if something will offend them. The best thing you can do is act normal and talk about the same things that you would normally talk about anyway.
9. Because this cannot be easy for you, I would like to help in this (specific) way
Make a suggestion. Offer to prepare meals for their family for the next 3 nights. Offer to include them with your family meal out on the town. Bring over your favorite movies to watch together.
Giving a grieving person time and space to get the majority of the initial loss and sadness out of their system, but committing to get them away from any self-imposed confinement during the grieving process and into a supportive social atmosphere. Excluding a grieving person from social events is cruel to them, no matter your intentions toward your guests about avoiding awkwardness.