Talking to Someone who is Grieving

By Nina Watts-Carrier

People can be overwhelmed when confronted with what to say to someone who is grieving. People may think that they need to make the griever feel better, to alleviate their pain or they may avoid the person altogether because they don’t know what to say. The reality is that you are probably not going to be able to make them feel better, you cannot take away their pain and it can be incredibly hurtful to not acknowledge the person and their loss.

Keep It Simple

The tried and tested, “I’m sorry for your loss”, is probably the easiest thing to say. Don’t minimise the person’s loss or grief. Avoid euphemisms and comparisons; they are not helpful.  We never truly know how someone is feeling and the same is true of grief. We can empathise with the shared experience of a broken heart however.

Be Honest

People appreciate sincerity and honesty. Sometimes there are no words so tell them that you don’t know what to say. Grief is difficult and nobody finds it easy, acknowledge this. A genuine show of compassion, no matter how small, can be worth its weight in gold to a grieving person. Tell them that you wish you had the right words to comfort them but that you care and you are available to help in any way that you can. Hug them, if you know them well-enough; they may well need the physical comfort and a hug is honest and sincere, no words needed.

Tell Stories

Acknowledge that there is something missing – someone who was very special to the grieving person. Tell them your favourite memories of their loved one. Affirm that you miss them too; they were special to you, that you notice their absence. Talking about someone keeps them with you and will comfort the grieving person, as long as they are in the emotional space to share stories. As always, take your cue from them.

Be Present

What is most helpful to the griever is up to them at a particular time; they may want to cry, talk, sit in silence or they may want to be distracted and take a break from their grief for a while. Support them by being present and assuring them that it is ok. It can be difficult to make decisions when grieving as feeling incoherent is a normal grief reaction. It can be nice for someone else take the lead so don’t be afraid to suggest things to do, such as go for a coffee, go for a walk, watch a movie and so on. Be led by what you know the person enjoys, doing familiar things can provide a sense of normalcy for the griever but also be aware the grieving takes a lot of energy, so they may not want to do anything.

There is No Timeline

After the first 365 days you just stop counting days. Just as every relationship we have is unique, the same is true for our experiences of grief. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is no absolute timeframe, and there are no right or wrong reactions or behaviours. Grief brings a roller-coaster of emotions and grieving people experience a multitude of feelings. You cannot change what someone is feeling so just try to support the griever in whatever way they may need at any given time. Don’t judge their feelings and don’t expect them to feel or behave in a particular way. Nobody has the right to tell anyone how to manage their deepest pain. Don’t take it personally if they are sharp tempered and snippy with you, support and acceptance are what someone who is grieving needs.

If you’re at a complete loss, just say that you’re sorry

For further assistance please contact your GP