What do you say to someone whose life comes crashing down around him or her; whose life, as they knew it, is forever and profoundly changed?
The first thing to really recognize is that when someone experiences the death of a loved one, the loss is so pervasive, the pain so excruciating, that there are no words that will be particularly helpful or meaningful to hear.
You see, grieving is a wholly feeling experience. The intellectual recognition that someone has died is present inside us immediately, and is very different from the emotional recognition that someone has died; really getting that you will never see his face again; never hear her voice again; never be able to throw your arms around each other and share a bear hug.
The emotional recognition is a normal, natural and necessary process we call grieving.
Recognize that people who are grieving the loss of a loved one – even the death of an elderly person who had a good life and whose death was expected – are experiencing something that is incomprehensible. Inexplicable. Unimaginable. Inconsolable.
And in fact, sometimes people say the most stupid things to people who are grieving –even with the best of intentions.
Don’t Say This to a Grieving Person
- There was nothing you could do; you did your best!
- Time heals all wounds
- You should keep yourself busy; busy hands are happy hands
- You still have another child
- I know what you’re going through
Make a personal connection to the person who is feeling the agony of a loss. Have the courage to speak the truth about the terribleness of what has happened.
Allow yourself to acknowledge that a loss occurred and someone feels deeply saddened; think of words that might accurately describe loss, like – terrible, tragic, heartbreaking, sad, nightmare; be sure to speak from the “I position;” and whatever you say, keep it simple; and keep it short!
Consider Saying This to a Grieving Person
- I can’t imagine how terrible this is for you. You are in my thoughts.
- I can only imagine the profound sadness in your heart right now. I am keeping you in my prayers.
- There are no words I can say to express my sorrow.
- I wish there was something I could say that would lessen the agony you must feel today.
Reflecting the truth of the pain back to those in pain is how you sow the seeds of caring and comfort.
Remember, only YOU can make it Happen!