It can be difficult to find the right words when speaking to someone who has lost a loved one. You want your words to be supportive and comforting without being intrusive or presumptuous. The fear of saying something that might upset the bereaved may make you feel uncomfortable, but don’t let this discomfort prevent you from reaching out. More than anything, someone experiencing loss needs support and a caring presence.

Helpful things to say

  • Acknowledge the situation and share your sympathy – A bereaved person needs to feel that their loss can be openly discussed. You can start the conversation with a simple and sincere “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I heard about your mom, I am so sorry.”
  • Share a memory – If you knew the person who died, sharing a specific memory or something you will always remember about them will help those left behind feel like their loved one won’t be forgotten.
  • Ask how they are feeling – It’s important to offer a grieving person space to discuss their emotions. They may not want to in the moment, but by doing so they know they can come to you in the future.
  • Let them know their feelings are valid – Every person grieves differently. Whether they’re feeling shock, anger, pain, guilt or numb, be open to their emotions and let them know there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
  • Recognize how hard it is for them – It can be challenging to see someone you care about upset. Since it’s not actually possible to take away their pain, you can acknowledge it by saying something like “I’m sorry you’re going through this” or “I’m sorry things are so difficult right now.” This can help them feel understood and heard.

Things to avoid

  • Platitudes – Phrases like “It’s part of God’s plan,” “It was for the best. She’s at peace now” or “They’re in a better place” may come across flat and unhelpful to a grieving person as it detracts from their own feelings of loss.
  • Setting expectations for their grief – The grieving process is unique to each individual. It is not linear and has no end date. The bereaved person has to learn how to cope with grief on their own terms. Avoid telling them they will heal, move on or get over it within a certain time frame.
  • Make it about you – While it can sometimes be helpful to share your own experiences and how you felt in a similar situation, it’s important to be aware of whether it’s appropriate in the moment. Oftentimes a bereaved person needs someone to listen, so take your cues from them.

What to say if you initially said the wrong thing

Because grief is vastly different from person to person and situation to situation, what one person finds consoling another person may resent. For this reason, you might find yourself saying the wrong thing. The person’s body language may change or they may tell you how what you said upset them. The best thing to do is to acknowledge your mistake and apologize. Ask them what you can do to be more helpful or what they need instead.

Final thoughts

Understand that no matter what you say or do, you cannot magically make things better for a grieving person. It’s natural to feel like you want to rescue them from their pain, but it is something each person must navigate in their own way. The best thing you can do is be present and listen.

If you or a loved one have recently experienced a loss and need help with planning funeral arrangements in the Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee areas, Strouf Funeral Home is here to help. Call us today at 262.632.5101 to speak with our dedicated staff.