It is common to find ourselves at a loss for words when someone we care about has experienced the death of a loved one. It can be overwhelming because we are torn between our desire to support them and our fear of somehow saying the wrong thing and making things worse. So what should we do?
First of all, our main focus should be compassion. Consideration & empathy for how the other person is feeling should come before our concerns about our own feelings. Yes, we may be uncomfortable and even sad ourselves, but we are there to support that other person.
Asking them what they need can be helpful, although they may not be able to articulate or even know what they need at that moment. You could simply say, “I’m here for you.” Then find a way to be present of offer assistance. Check in with them regularly and let them know you still care. It might be helpful if you bring food, but make sure it’s food they like and just not a casserole of leftovers you found in your fridge.
Other possible things to say are:
I’m so sorry this happened. I know how much you cared for them.
This must be very difficult.
I’m here if you need to talk… or not talk but need a friend.
You can feel whatever you need to when you’re around me. It’s okay to not be okay.
What did you like most about them? ~or~ Can you tell me more about them?
Another thing that can be comforting to hear are stories you remember about the person who passed away, or why they were special to you (if you knew them). It is vitally important to know that a loved one is going to live on in the memories of others. It’s good to hear about the impact they had on the world and those with whom they came in contact.
Things that are NOT helpful and are even painful to hear are:
It was God’s will.
It’s going to be okay.
You need to move on.
They are in a better place.
At least they are no longer suffering.
Everything happens for a reason.
While all of these may be well-intentioned and you may believe them to be true, they can further complicate the already overwhelming emotions that someone experiences while mourning.
Another thing that can come across the wrong way is saying “I know what you’re feeling” unless you have experienced a similar loss and actually do know. But even sharing your own stories of loss can be tricky to bring up because feeling empathy for your loss while also grappling with their own feelings may overwhelm your loved one. Or they may feel that you are trying to downplay their loss by saying yours was worse. It’s best instead to keep the focus on the one you are trying to support.
The most important thing you can say or do is actually to not say anything at all. Just listen. Just be present. If they want to talk, let them talk. If they want to tell the same story you have heard ten times already, listen again. If they want to simply be silent and not talk about it don’t pressure them to share. We often underestimate the value of silent, unconditional support.
Ultimately people may not remember what you said when they were going through a difficult time, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Jennifer Roberts Bittner
Funeral Celebrant/ Life Tribute Specialist
Morrissett Funeral and Cremation Service
6500 Iron Bridge Rd.
N. Chesterfield, VA 23234
Serving the Richmond area since 1870