How To Know What To Say When Someone Loses A Loved One
Updated October 21, 2020
Bereavement, or grieving the death of an individual, is never easy, and knowing how to provide support to someone who is experiencing these feelings after they have lost a loved one can be very challenging as well. Finding the right words can create a sense of worry and anxiety, and even if you have the right intentions, the possibility that you might say the wrong thing may be looming in your mind. In general, when approaching these situations, you will want to be thoughtful and sensitive and try not to overstep any boundaries; however, in this article, you will learn some more specific ideas as to what to say and the reasoning behind them as well as some things not to say.
Good Things To Say To Them
Below, you will find some ideas that are appropriate to a bereaved person so that they know you support them. These ideas realize the loss and the impact that it has on the individual, but they don’t attempt to try to fix or change anything, but just listen to the person’s feelings and make themselves available to them if they wish to discuss more.
Offer Your Condolences
Simply telling someone you know who has lost a loved one and is grieving “I am deeply sorry for your loss” is one of the easiest and most effective ways to show your support because it lets them know that you are acknowledging the situation and their feelings.
Many people don’t require anything else than just knowing that people are thinking about them and have their best interests in mind. However, even if they don’t feel like talking much right now, they might want someone to talk to in the future, and this is where the next section is another excellent way to show sympathy and that you care for their well-being.
Ask If There Is Anything You Can Do To Help
One mistake that people do is try to inject themselves in a bereaved person’s situation. Early on, many people are still trying to process their feelings and emotions and may not have a lot to say at the moment, and that’s completely okay. Accept this, and instead, offer a helping hand and let them know that you are there for them when they need it.
Always be sure to let them know that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out through a phone call, text, email, through social media, or whichever way that they prefer to communicate. They might not need something right this minute, but you never know if they will need it in the future, and by letting them know that you are available to them, it can make a difference and can help them cope.
Explain What Their Loved One Meant To People
Even if you didn’t personally know the deceased individual that your friend, family member, significant other is grieving, it is a good gesture to briefly mention that they had made a positive impact on the people around them.
They may have been a good mother, father, brother, sister, friend, or anything, and their relationship to those around them will be cherished, and their wonderful qualities as a person will be missed. Don’t be alarmed if this makes them sad or cry, because reminding them the person was loved and will be missed will mean a lot to the person that you are trying to comfort in the long run.
Share Your Memories
If you happened to have known the individual who has passed away, another thoughtful idea that is similar to the previous section is to talk about some of the fond memories that you’ve shared together.
Perhaps the loved one was an excellent cook and was the life of the party at some of the family get-togethers or may he or she had an impeccable sense of humor that put a smile on everyone’s faces. Even though the individual is gone and it’s hard to cope right now, memories like these will live on forever, and hopefully, your friend or family member will be able to recall them and appreciate the good times that were had when they were here.
Write A Sympathy Card
While the above suggestions are simple and effective ways to show support to someone who has lost a loved one, it can also be difficult for many people to speak face-to-face about it due to a loss for words or they might be unable to directly reach them. In these cases, a sympathy card can also be a viable option.
With a sympathy card, you can take the time to think and write a longer and more thoughtful message than what can be done verbally. Once you have written your thoughts down, you can send it to their address or deliver it personally at a viewing, memorial, or the funeral.
Bad Things To Avoid Saying To Them
What’s arguably more important than trying to figure out what to say to a loved one is knowing what not to say to them, which generally involves trying to rationalize why the death happened, but it can also include trying to fix the issue or their discomfort. Below you will find some examples of things not to say to someone who is grieving.
“He or She Is In A Better Place Now”
While this phrase can have good intentions behind it, especially if the person’s loved one was suffering and in pain, it only reinforces the idea that they are gone and never coming back and it doesn’t provide anything constructive aside from letting them know that their loved one isn’t suffering anymore.
“He or She Lived A Long and Full Life”
Similar to the previous statement, while it can seem harmless, it isn’t completely helpful. However, it can potentially be made worse by statements like “some people never reach that age and die young” are used. A person’s lifespan isn’t a competition, and you should never compare them to others, and it can appear insensitive if you do.
“It Was His or Her Time To Go”
Even if a person was terminally ill, telling someone that their loved one’s death was on a timeline can be perceived as rude. This is especially true if religion gets involved, and both your friend or family member, as well as the deceased, were non-religious. Therefore, it’s best to try to avoid saying, “there was a reason for it happening” or, “God said it’s time to be with him.” Even if you share the same religious beliefs, it’s better to be on the safe side because of the aforementioned reasons.
“You Can Always Try To Have Another Baby”
One of the most tragic situations is if a mother suffers the loss of a child in any way, whether it’s due to a miscarriage, illness, an accident, etc. The physical and emotional energy of nurturing a baby is something that not everyone is able to understand or relate to, but for the mother, it is incredibly significant and heartbreaking. To her, her child was something that she and her loved ones were looking forward to raising, and human beings are not expendable. Let her grieve for her loss and consider her other options later.
“He or She Had It Coming”
One of the most insensitive and non-reassuring ways to someone who is mourning is by saying that their loved one was responsible for their own death. Regardless if they lived an unhealthy lifestyle, such as dietary choices, smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming other substances, it’s rude to point these things out, and it doesn’t provide any positivity.
“Why Aren’t You Over It Yet?”
People cope with death on their own terms, and there is certainly no set timeframe in which someone gets over a loved one who has passed away. Depending on how close they were with the friend, family member, or spouse, some people never fully recover, but they can get better. Therefore, never bring up why they aren’t over someone even if years have passed; their experience and their progress is their own obstacle to overcome.
Lastly, these kinds of phrases can seem innocent and good-natured, but in the event that a person loses a loved one, it should be a time to allow themselves to feel vulnerable. If they feel the need to stay strong, especially to set an example for others, they might never really learn how to cope with these feelings and emotions because they get bottled up in an attempt to feel strong and in control. Let them feel weak for the time being, and over time, they can build themselves back up. Simply let them know that you are there for them if they need it.
Additional Help For Coping With Grief
No one has to go through the grieving process alone, and with your help, you can make it easier for your friends or a family member to cope during this difficult time. However, professional help is also available and can make a big difference.
There are many licensed counselors and therapists who specialize in assisting people in dealing with bereavement, and finding one who is caring and sensitive to a person’s needs is easier than ever through BetterHelp’s online services.
Online therapy is convenient and affordable and is designed to be stress-free. All you need is a stable internet connection and a computer, mobile device, or a tablet that can connect to it.
It can seem daunting to suggest to a bereaved person that they can benefit from seeking out counseling, but professional help is supposed to do just that – help. Counselors and therapists have the knowledge, expertise, and skill set that others don’t have in helping people cope with the death of a loved one, and therefore, can make the process more seamless for those who are struggling.
Sometimes a bereaved person may want to be alone during this time, but they don’t have to be. By being thoughtful and allowing them to reach out to you in their time of need, you can be a part of their healing process as well as counselors and therapists. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some ways you can communicate with the person you care about so that they know that you are in their lane.
- NHS.uk. (2019, October 15). Grief after bereavement or loss. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-bereavement/
- Mental Health America. (2020). Bereavement and Grief. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/bereavement-and-grief
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