What Do I Say to a Grieving Friend?
I’ve been talking about the vital importance of listening to the grieving person. But I haven’t done a very good job yet of answering the comment I get most frequently in my grief awareness work. So here is what you have been asking for.
“I don’t know what to say.” Or “I am so afraid of hurting my friend, what can I say that won’t make him/her feel worse or cry?”
First off, tears are the body’s way of cleansing the soul. They are good and need to be welcomed. Here is an awkward practice, but if you do it, you will become an outstanding comforter and a grievers best friend. When someone you are with begins to tear up, look them in the eyes and say, “Your tears are good, may I join you?” Shared tears brings hearts close and develops an atmosphere of safety.
Secondly, you can make a grieving person feel worse with insensitive comments or isolating them. So you do well to be aware that you don’t want to increase their pain. At the same time, their pain is already past capacity, so there is really nothing you can say that will take away the hurt. What you can do is offer your presence and support.
Russell Friedman from the Grief Recovery Method tells of a recent study showing that 85% of things said to grieving people do not help or comfort the bereaved. That means only 15% of what is said brings some comfort to the grieving. Don’t you want to be in that group? I do. So then what could we say?
Words that Connect and Comfort
Here are a few words that can be supportive:
- “I can’t even imagine what it is like for you right now.”
- “I need you to know that I care and am willing to be with you.”
- “I don’t have any words that will take your pain away. May I just sit with you?”
- “Do you feel like talking right now?”
- “I am okay with your feelings, tears, or silence.”
- “Would you like to be held or hugged?”
- “Tell me what is really on your heart today.”
- “If you could make a to-do list for a friend, what might be on it?” “May I pick one of those things to do for you?”
- “I’d like to share my favorite memory of _________.” Or “I remember when ________”
- “Thank you for sharing your pain with me. It is an honor.”
These kinds of words are best expressed with honest sincerity. As a caring friend of someone who grieves, it takes some mindful thoughtfulness to consider what to say that will really comfort and support them. And when you do, it makes all the difference in the world for both of you.