What words will comfort a grieving friend or family member?
Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities. Comments like,
"I know how you feel,"
"You are holding up so well,"
"Time heals all wounds,"
"Think of all you still have to be thankful for" or
"Just be happy that he's out of his pain"
are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend's journey through grief more difficult.
Keep in mind that your friend's grief is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by grieving people, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in their own unique lives.
A truthful and comforting acknowledgement would be expressed as,
"I know you are hurting and I am sorry."
Your presence at the funeral is important. As a ritual, the funeral provides an opportunity for you to express your love and concern at this time of need. As you pay tribute to a life that is now passed, you have a chance to support grieving friends and family. At the funeral, a touch of your hand, a look in your eye or even a hug often communicates more than any words could ever say.
Write a personal note.
Sympathy cards express your concern, but there is no substitute for your personal written words. What do you say? Share a favorite memory of the person who died. Relate the special qualities that you valued in him or her. These words will often be a loving gift to your grieving friend, words that will be reread and remembered for years.
Use the name of the person who has died either in your personal note or when you talk to your friend. Hearing that name can be comforting, and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of your friend's life.
Understanding the importance of the loss.
Remember that the death of someone loved is a shattering experience. As a result of this death, your friend's life is under reconstruction. Consider the significance of the loss and be gentle and compassionate in all of your helping efforts.
While the above guidelines will be helpful, it is
important to recognize that helping a grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love that you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it.
By 'walking with' your friend in grief, you are giving one of life's most precious gifts--yourself.
by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.