What to Do When Someone You Care About is Grieving
Offering your presence can ease the pain of a friend’s loss.
Written by Angel McCall CFP®
Lifetime Financial Strategies
© 2016 All rights reserved.
It can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone you know is suffering through the loss of a loved one. You might fear saying the wrong thing and decide to say nothing at all. While you can’t take away the pain of the loss, you can provide much-needed comfort and support. There are many ways to help a grieving friend or family member, starting with letting the person know you care.
Now, more than ever, your support is needed. You don’t need to have any answers or give advice. Your caring presence and support will help him or her cope with the pain and begin to heal.
Understanding the Grieving Process. Everyone grieves differently. It can be an emotional roller coaster, with unpredictable highs, lows and setbacks. Avoid telling the bereaved what he or she “should” be feeling or doing. Feelings of anger, guilt, despair and fear are common. Reassure the bereaved that what he or she feels is normal. Don’t judge them or take his or her grief reactions personally.
For many people, the bereavement takes 18 to 24 months, but for others, the process may be longer or shorter. Don’t pressure the bereaved to move on or make them feel like they’ve been grieving too long. This can slow the healing process.
Some people in grief want to hold on by sharing stories, songs and memories of good times together. Others turn inward in their grief. Everyone appreciates knowing that they are cared for. Until I was 27, I did not understand funerals and very seldom went to any. My father died suddenly and I was responsible for the arrangements which I handled very efficiently. It was only when I went through the funeral services did I realize the importance. I remember everyone who was there. My Dad’s longtime friends came to offer their condolences. His brothers and sisters shared stories of their childhood that I had never heard. I loved hearing from others about this wonderful man that I adored, but would no longer have to guide me through life.
What to say to say to someone who has lost a loved one.
Here are a few suggestions to guide you if you struggle what to say:
Acknowledge the situation. Example: “I heard that your _______ died.” Use the word “Died.” That will show that you are more open to talk about how the person feels.
Express your concern. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that this happened to you.” “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Be genuine in your communication and don’t hide your feelings.
Examples: “I want you to know”/ “I wish that I had the right words, just know that I care.” / “You and _____ will be in my thoughts and prayers.”
Give a hug, pat on the arm or hold their hand and make caring eye-to-eye communication.
Talk about the person as you knew him/her in the fullness of life to recreate a living picture to replace the picture of death.
If you did not know the deceased – “I didn’t know that your brother too well. Tell me about him. . .”
Don’t be afraid of causing tears. This fear, probably more than anything else, makes people stiff and ineffective. This is depriving your friend of the greatest help you could give them. Medical and psychological studies back this up. I went to a funeral in a rural, black community and experienced open emotions with ladies delivering handkerchiefs to the crying folks. This was totally different from my family’s funerals of silence and solitary mourning.
Let them talk. Sorrowing people need to talk. Don’t you worry about saying the right things. You are there to listen. Keep quiet and listen even though they may repeat the same things a dozen times. They are not telling you news but expressing feelings that need repetition. If your friend said a hundred words to your one, you’ve helped a lot.
Communicate – don’t isolate. Too often a person who has lost a loved one is overwhelmed with visitors for a week or so; then the house is empty. In three weeks or so, call or send a “thinking of you” card.
Don’t assume that they “want to be alone.” This is when friends are needed the most.
Don’t be afraid to ask them how they feel – don’t assume. While you should never try to force them to open up, let them talk and be willing to listen in silence.
“I don’t know how you feel, but I am here for you.”
“I’m always just a phone call away.”
Keep in touch. See him for any purpose – lunch, shopping, evening visit, movie outing. Invite her over for dinner or crafting or a walk or bike ride. By just showing up and being there, you are proof that that they are not alone and have resources.
Don’t try to divert them by avoiding their situation and loss when you speak with them.
Don’t rationalize or try to explain the loss.
Don’t be judgmental.
Don’t make statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.”
Don’t try to direct their life.
Don’t put a timeline on their grief.
Remember the children: Don’t overlook their loss. They are hurting and confused even though they may not show it. Parents who are suffering the loss are so deep in grief that they may not see or realize the pain in their children.
Worst things to say to someone in grief:
Statement that begin with “You should” or “You will”
“I know how you feel.”
“At least she lived a long life.”
“He is in a better place.”
“She brought this on herself.”
“There is a reason for everything.”
“Aren’t you over him yet? He has been dead for a while now.
“You can still have another child.”
“It’s part of God’s plan.”
“She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him”.
“She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go.”
“Be strong.” Or “You are such a strong person.”
“Don’t take it so hard. Buck up.”
“Look what you have to be thankful for.”
If you want to offer any suggestions, you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “You might…”
Perform some concrete act. Offer your support. Make it a point to do this. Here are some ideas:
Bring a meal for their freezer or call after a week or so and set a time to bring them a meal or take them to dinner.
If it someone you don’t feel you know well enough to take to dinner, but want to express you concern, send them a follow-up “caring” card with a gift card. It could be for Starbucks, movies, dinner, massage, manicure. This will encourage them to “get out of the house.”
Offer to run errands, ferry children to school or activities, make phone calls for them, help acknowledge condolence notes, shop for groceries.
I sometimes offer the help them through the financial tasks because that is my profession, but you can draw upon your abilities and talents to offer help.
Get them back into action. Sorrowing people tend to drop out of things. They’re a little like the rider who has been thrown from a horse. If they are able to ride again, better get them back on the horse quickly. Help them build a bridge to the future.
Get them out of themselves. Grief runs its natural course, but there is a vacuum left behind. Help guide your friend to new interests.
Provide ongoing support. Stay in touch. Their whole world has changed. They need to be able to count on a few things that have not changed, like your friendship. Continue to be yourself and, if your friend feels up to it, continue doing the things you enjoy doing together.
Grief lessens in time but never goes away. Your friendship can continue to thrive. Offering your time and energy is a gift that they will be forever grateful for.
I offer a complimentary consultation to assist with the financial aspects after death of a loved one. The survivor may have many questions and fears that will be addressed at our meeting. I can assist with beneficiary transfers and financial planning. Social Security options are often more than the Social Security Office will provide. I will provide the information so that informed decisions can be made.
Thank you for reading my article. Please feel free to save it and pass it along.