9 Sympathetic Things to Say When Someone is Grieving
"How are you feeling?"
Even if you think you know the answer, ask anyway. Notice, we're not suggesting, "How are you doing?" There's a subtle difference. "How are you feeling?" lets her know that you care about her feelings and want to focus on them. Odds are, she's been busy taking care of details or helping others cope, and haven't had time to accept her own feelings, which is important to the grieving process.
Often, well-meaning people avoid asking anything that may be sensitive, difficult, or trigger more tears—and this includes asking about feelings. For many of us, it's not something we openly talk about under ordinary circumstances. But this isn't an ordinary circumstance and we may need to do something outside our own comfort zone to comfort someone else. Your friend needs to be reassured that it's okay to think of herself during this time and to accept and acknowledge her feelings—no matter what the emotion is.
Feelings of fear, guilt, anger, worry and loneliness are common. The person you comfort may be angry about the loss, obsess about the death, lash out at loved ones, or cry for hours on end. Don't judge him, take his reactions personally, or tell him how he "should" be feeling. Just accept, acknowledge...and keep asking. Even if he says he's okay today, he might want to talk about it in three months when many people are avoiding the subject.
"(name) was so lucky to have you in his life."
Just letting the bereaved know that her loved one's life was improved because of her can be a source of comfort. Whether your friend nursed her husband over many months, or she was suddenly confronted with the death of her daughter, this statement can assure her that she made that person's time on earth immeasurably better.
If you watched your grandmother still call your grandfather handsome while feeding him applesauce, she'll appreciate being reminded about the beautiful love they shared after he is gone. The little ways that your friend went to bat for the person she loved will remind her that, while she wishes she could have done more, she was amazing.
Often when people grieve, they don't even know how they feel — so you don't have to pretend you do.
"It must be so difficult for you."
Saying "it must be" rather than "I know" is a safe way to relate to someone's feelings without claiming to understand exactly what they're going through. And acknowledging the difficulty of the situation lets the person know you're open to hearing how they really feel - if they want to talk about it.
More often than not, supporting someone who's grieving often means you need to be sitting in silence. An old friend had a grieving aunt who wanted to tell the same story over and over again in her time of bereavement, right down to the minute detail. Repeating her story was a way of "spending more time" with processing and accepting death and with each repetition the pain seemed to lessen.
"I can't imagine what you're going through."
Often when people grieve, they don't even know how they feel - so you don't have to pretend you do. This lets them know that you're simply there to support them and their individual situation without necessarily sharing your own experience with loss.
Even if you've recently lost your mother, too, you don't know exactly how that person feels. Trying to make your friend's loss relatable to your own takes the focus off of her and puts it on you. While you're trying to be helpful, this may be unintentionally offensive. You simply can't compare losses, no matter how similar they may seem.
Saying you can't imagine what they're going through conveys the message that you do see how hard this is, lets them know they are not alone and gives them the opportunity to describe their feelings if they want to-which would actually be very therapeutic.
People who are mourning love to hear an anecdote in which their beloved did/said something brave, insightful, funny, thoughtful.
"I can remember when (name of deceased)..."
People who are mourning love to hear an anecdote in which their beloved did/said something brave, insightful, funny, thoughtful. It's like this memory keeps the very best part of him alive.
Was your uncle always quick with a joke? Did your friend help you during a difficult time? Was your boss the best mentor you've ever had? Stories are celebrations of life. And these are the things that survivors would like to hear, whether you're close to them or not. Even if you don't know your boss's family, they would love to hear how he impacted other people's lives.
"I love you, and you're not alone."
Death is scary. And dealing with it has a lot of intense emotions involved - including fear, anger and guilt - which can make people feel isolated. Having someone to lean on can help them through the grief process - even if you're not completely comfortable with it yourself.
Are you uncomfortable talking about death and grieving? We all feel that way. But don't let that prevent you from reaching out. Now, more than ever, your friend needs your supportive presence. You may not know exactly what to do, but that's okay.
Although grief is individual to everyone, there are some excellent resources to help you understand how many people handle loss-and how others can respond:
"It's okay to cry."
We've all seen people put on a brave face - and this isn't intended to crack it. But sometimes people need "permission" to openly grieve.
During this time, there will be many situations where the bereaved will feel obligated to act stronger than she feels. So now she's shouldering a loss and trying to control her emotions. That's exhausting. Giving her a safe place—without judgment, argument or criticism—to "let it out" will give her temporary relief from the weight of the world she most likely feels like she's carrying.
So, what do you do if she does cry, gets angry or completely breaks down? Just be there. Don't press her if she doesn't feel like talking. You can offer support with eye contact, a hug, or squeezing her hand-the amount of contact that feels most natural to your relationship will be most comforting to her.
"There's really no such thing as getting over death no matter how well someone looks like they're handling it."
"I hope I'm one of the people who can comfort you in the weeks and months ahead."
Neither of you is expected to know what that comfort looks like right now, but just letting him know that you'll still be there when the dust settles makes the future look slightly less daunting. Just be prepared to follow through.
Grieving continues long after the funeral is over and the cards have stopped coming. Although the process varies from person to person, it usually lasts much longer than people show or expect. My grandma told me, "There's really no such thing as getting over death no matter how well someone looks like they're handling it." The pain will lessen in intensity, but some component of sadness and loss often remains. Especially during certain times of year like holidays, birthdays or anniversaries. So stay in touch.
"I'll be by next Tuesday to take you to lunch."
While a general offer to "be there" is thoughtful, a specific date on the calendar shows that you mean it-and takes the pressure off the grieving person to make a plan. "Let me know if there's anything I can do," is said with good intentions, but that puts the burden on the bereaved, right? It's your job, not hers to initiate this.
Even though she may need help or just someone to talk to, most people don't feel comfortable asking. Take the lead and set up a specific time to show you really will be there—next week, next month, and next year. A card, a note, an email are all ways of sending a little sunshine to someone who needs it.