When someone in your life is experiencing grief, it can be hard to find the words to say. While there are tons of opinions about all the ‘right’ and the ‘wrong’ ways to share your condolences, the truth is that every loss, and every person, is different. So, instead of a strict A-Z guide, here are some things to consider so you can respond accordingly.
Be thoughtful (actually).
While it’s OK to say common phrases like “I’m sorry for your loss” and “I’m thinking of you,” one rule of thumb is to choose your words deliberately, even if you are repeating a generic response. When I lost a parent four years ago, I received hundreds of messages like this – and while I was grateful to have so many people reach out, it was even nicer when not every message felt like a copy-and-paste.
Give them space to vent.
If you’ve ever experienced any sort of trauma, you’ll understand that sometimes all you need during difficult times is for someone to listen. However, keep in mind that there’s an important difference between giving them space and forcing them to open up. They will speak if and when they want to; it’s only your job to let them know you’ll be by their side.
Help in any way you can.
Going through loss is extremely draining and depending on how close someone is to the deceased, can require a lot of labour – like sorting funeral arrangements or dealing with loads of paperwork. But you don’t need to know what’s going on behind the scenes to offer help. For example, bring them food (and make sure it’s within their dietary restrictions if you do) or offer any expertise or connections that may help (like a free massage if you’re a massage therapist or a funeral director contact, etc.).
It may get better over time, but please don’t say that.
If you told someone you were celebrating something, and they replied with, “that’s not that big of a deal,” how would you feel? Dismissed? Ignored? All of the above? That’s *also* how it feels when a grieving person is told that things will get better. Remember that everyone’s emotions are valid and no one wants to be told how to feel, especially after someone they love has died. Salt in a wound doesn’t work, and I’d say the same for this approach.
Consider their love language.
Think about how the grieving person would normally react to certain behaviour (i.e., their love language) and take that into consideration when showing your sympathy. If their love language is receiving gifts, bring or send them something thoughtful. If they favour quality time, make it clear to them that you’re available whenever they need you.
Consider these five points when speaking with someone who has lost a loved one and you’ll feel that much more confident in being there when they need you the most.
Ebony-Renee Baker is a Canadian writer and content creator based in the UK. She writes about topics including lifestyle, fashion, race, social issues and, yes, sometimes death.