It can be challenging to know what to say to someone grieving.
The fear of saying the wrong thing could make a person avoid trying to help, but there is no one particular way to help someone through grief. By being open, compassionate and willing to help, a person’s presence and active listening can offer support to grieving loved ones.
As a funeral home director, you already know what to say and do, but your client’s families and friends may not. We invite you to customize and print these tips to give to anyone you think might need them. Marketing tip: You can customize the design before you print by using Canva – a free online graphic design tool. It’s easy to use!
- Check in on them: Make an effort to check in with your friend, even if it is a quick phone call, a card or an invitation to grab a coffee together. You might be surprised how much your check-ins mean to a friend who is grieving.
- Understand the grieving process: As your friend navigates the many difficult emotions that grief can bring, it is important to have a general understanding of grief. People who are grieving experience sadness, depression, anger and anxiety commonly. Additional symptoms can include physical challenges such as digestive issues, sleep disturbance and fatigue, among others. As you take time to learn about the grief process, how you can support your friend in meaningful ways will become more apparent.
- Listen more, talk less: When you are in the presence of someone who is grieving, it is often difficult to know what to say. Your natural tendency may be to try to make your friend feel better, but in a situation such as grief, no amount of talking will help. Be sure to pay attention to the amount of talking you are doing compared to the amount of listening. Your friend will benefit more from talking about their feelings than anything else. Listen to their thoughts and feelings and express compassion for what they are experiencing in their grief process.
- Let them cry: One of the most important aspects of the grieving process is the ability to express deep sadness and allow oneself to cry. Letting your friend cry shows them that you understand that crying is an important part of the grief process. It may be tempting to try to cheer your friend up or tell them not to cry, but remember, it is an important part of grief and healing. Often when people are discouraged from crying it is a reflection of the discomfort others have about witnessing that amount of pain. Think about the tears as a necessary part of the healing journey.
- Ask questions: Often people are hesitant about asking questions of a friend who is grieving, for fear of upsetting them or saying the wrong thing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as it allows your friend to talk about their loved one openly. If you’re not sure what to ask or how, some grief discussion questions can help guide the way. Check in on your friend’s self-care, such as how they are sleeping and if they are getting enough to eat. Venture into how they are feeling emotionally and listen with compassion and care. Remember, you don’t have to fix anything — there is nothing you can do to make your friend’s pain go away — but your presence and compassion can make a world of difference.
- Offer practical help: Grief can cause you to neglect your own basic needs at times. Offering practical help can be a lifesaver when your friend is struggling to navigate the tasks of life while grieving. It may surprise you just how beneficial these practical tasks can be:
- Running errands
- Cleaning their house
- Cooking for them
- Offering to help with childcare
- Offering to help manage or coordinate bills
- Helping with laundry
- Be willing to sit in silence: Grief ushers in a variety of strong emotions, and sometimes a grieving person needs to sit in silence to regain a semblance of peace. It can be difficult to sit in silence, particularly when you know your friend is struggling with emotional pain. Resist the urge to fill the silence and make an effort to allow it space. Your presence is enough. By being there for your friend, you are showing your love and support, even if you sit quietly together and don’t say a word. Your silent presence may be more therapeutic than you realize.
- Remember important dates: Anniversaries of grief experiences can be painful reminders of your friend’s loss each year. Try to keep in mind that the date of your friend’s loss, as well as holidays and birthdays, can be triggers for grief symptoms. Reach out to let your friend know that you are thinking of them. After a loss, people often have good intentions about staying in touch but become busy with life and don’t follow through. Contacting your grieving friend on anniversaries and holidays can help reduce that feeling of loneliness and lets them know that their well-being matters to you.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about the deceased person: Sometimes people have a misconception that talking about the deceased loved one will upset the bereaved. Most grieving people do want to talk about and think about their loved one who has passed, and by doing this, it helps facilitate the healing process. Ask questions about the lost loved one, like what were their hobbies? Ask about the memories that your friend treasures. It may be that you are one of the few people your friend feels free to talk about their loss with. Encourage the conversation and memories about the deceased and just listen.
- Don’t try to fix them: Grief is not a problem to be fixed. Your grieving friend only needs your loving support and presence. Attempting to do or say something to fix the situation will only leave you and your friend feeling more powerless. Remember that grief can’t be remedied by anything but time, support and compassion. If your friend feels you are trying to fix them or their feelings, they may start to view themselves as a problem, which may reduce their comfort in confiding in you and expressing their feelings openly.
- Don’t diminish their grief: Acknowledging grief is one of the most basic and powerful ways you can show your support. People may unintentionally diminish a loved one’s grief by saying, “You’ll get over it soon,” and “You’ll be fine.” The best way to honor someone’s true feelings and grief experiences is to ask how they feel and simply listen. Trying to decrease someone’s pain by minimizing it only makes them feel disconnected.
- Don’t draw comparisons to your experience unless appropriate: To identify with their pain and offer support, you might be tempted to make comparisons about your losses in life. However, doing so is unnecessary and can often lead to frustration and anger for the person experiencing grief. While it may be true that you have also experienced loss, use discretion when interjecting your experience. Only share and draw comparisons if the loss is very similar to that of your friend. Drawing inappropriate comparisons about grief can result in your friend feeling minimized.
- Don’t comment on their appearance: It may seem fairly benign to make a statement about a grieving person’s appearance, but these comments can be damaging. Refrain from telling your grieving friend that they look tired, depressed or sad. Even comments that are meant as complimentary may make your friend feel as though they are being judged. Commenting on physical appearance is a common practice, but during your friend’s grief, even the most well-intentioned remark can feel harmful. Passing comments about a bereaved person looking drained only reinforces what they are feeling inside. Instead, offer your support and ask how you can help.
- Don’t push your faith on them: When a friend or loved one is grieving, it can feel compelling to share your religious or spiritual beliefs with them as a means of helping them feel better. Even though you want your friend to feel peace and comfort, resist the urge to talk about your faith with them. If your friend asks questions about your beliefs, share openly, but without pressing the matter.
- Avoid platitudes: Platitudes should be at the top of the list of things to avoid saying to someone grieving. Phrases such as, “They’re better off now,” and “She wouldn’t want you to be sad,” should be banned from all conversations with the bereaved. These common statements are surely meant with good intentions, but only placate and minimize the feelings of the person who is grieving.
The best thing you can offer someone who is grieving is a hug, a listening ear and a compassionate presence. No combination of words will make your friend’s pain go away. Don’t worry about saying the right thing because honestly, there is no right thing to say. Grief can be all-consuming. Just being present and offering love and kindness is all that matters.
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