“Thoughts and prayers” or “sending healing vibes”? What to say to a grieving person
It can feel awkward reaching out to someone dealing with loss. The aftermath of a death is a busy and emotional time, but it can also be lonely. Many gain strength and solace from hearing words of support from those around them. So, how can you find the words to best comfort your loved one?
First, if you are in a position to offer tangible help, do so. Bear in mind that an open-ended “Let me know if I can help” might be too much to process for someone in the midst of grieving. Try to offer up a few particular ways you might lighten their load. Ask if you can bring them a meal, run an errand or take care of some chores.
If you knew the deceased, share a favorite memory of them. For a grieving person, that small anecdote can bring back a happy memory, or it might be a warm new discovery. If that person helped or influenced you, sharing your appreciation with those left behind can be a great comfort.
Focus on the grieving person and their loved one. While you might eventually share things that helped you through a loss, don’t change the subject to your own experiences or draw comparisons. Ask questions, hear their thoughts and feelings and ask what you can do for them.
Avoid phrases that minimize or try to speed up the grieving process. “This too shall pass,” “at least she’s no longer suffering” or “at least he lived a long life” can dismiss or even worsen someone’s pain. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything starting with “at least.”
Likewise, try not to force another person’s experience through your own belief filter. Statements like “She’s in a better place,” or “His spirit is looking down on you” are meant well, but unless spoken by the family’s spiritual leader they can hit the wrong note. The compassionate way to find out about someone’s belief structure and how it relates to their loved one’s death is to ask them, then follow their lead.
Lastly, remember that any words of comfort are appreciated. No matter how — in person, on the phone, via social media, text or email — the most important thing is letting them know you care. A heartfelt “I don’t know what to say” or “I cannot find the words” is better than silence. In person, a quiet hug can speak volumes.
Here are some links to further resources that can help you find the best words to offer comfort to a grieving person.