Helpful things to say to someone grieving a loss

  1.  “I can’t imagine how you feel” or “I can’t imagine how painful – devastating – heartbreaking – that must have been for you.” Every relationship is unique, therefore, every griever is unique. You cannot know how they feel so this is always a truthful statement that will never offend the griever, “I can’t imagine how you feel; I know that when I lost my mother I felt …..”
  2.  Do listen with your heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
  3.  Do ask, “What happened?” Most people will avoid this question. However, most often we find that grievers feel isolated because most people will tend to avoid them as if nothing happened. This can be very isolating for someone who’s grieving.
  4.  Follow their words in your head as they are spoken. In other words, stay in the moment while they’re speaking. If you leave the moment for one second, you have just become an unsafe person to talk to about grief.
  5.  Be empathetic. This means that if you tear up during their story, let that be ok. You are allowed to be human while listening to another human. By doing this, you set the tone in that interaction that sharing sad emotions is ok with you.
  6.  The “G” word. This might help you as the word “guilty” is often used by a griever.

Griever: My son committed suicide, I feel so guilty.

Grief Recovery Specialist: Did you ever do anything with intent to harm your son?

Griever: No. (This is an almost universal response.)

Grief Recovery Specialist: The dictionary definition of guilt implies intent to harm. Since you had no intent to harm, can you put the “G” word back in the dictionary…You are probably devastated enough by the death of your son, you don’t need to add to it by hurting yourself with an incorrect word that distorts your feelings.

Griever: Really? I never thought of it that way.

Grief Recovery Specialist: Are there some things that you wish had been different, better, or more?

Griever: Oh, yes.