What to Say to Someone who is Grieving
Published March 29, 2018 by Francesca Robinson, MA in At Home Caregiving
“Don’t let fear keep you from showing love to those who grieve. Show up, bring a meal, sit, cry, be silent, give a hug, check in, but above all else, show love.”
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield but to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.
Ravindranath Tagore, Fruit-Gathering
This is the quote that opens Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ book “On Death and Dying.” Fear surrounds death–Fear of dying, fear of someone you love dying, fear of what to say, fear of adding to grief, fear of being left alone, fear of never recovering, the list can go on and on. Despite our fears, death is unavoidable, every person has come in contact with grief in varying forms.
When we witness someone we know and love grieving what to do or say in those situations can leave us uncomfortable, nervous, and even fearful. In the midst of grief our words fall short, but we must show up. Here are a few ways you can intentionally care for those who are grieving.
Never try to “fix” the situation.
Statements like, “time heals all wounds” and “he’s in a better place” even with the best intentions are hurtful and insensitive. Death can’t be fixed and the pain can’t be taken away by a phrase. Instead, communicate your desire to support the grieving person. That could be a simple, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or even communicating your loss of words, “I don’t know what to say, just know how sorry I am.”
Offer tangible help.
Grief is all consuming and basic tasks like grocery shopping and cooking become next to impossible. Avoid asking “how can I help?” or “let me know if you need anything”, instead take the initiative to provide tangible support by saying, “I’m dropping off dinner on Wednesday” or “I’ll take the kids to school this month for you” or “I’m coming over to do a few loads of laundry”. Take it one step further and organize a meal train so those in the initial stages of grief don’t have to worry about preparing meals.
Understand there is no timetable for grief.
When you come alongside someone who is grieving, know that grief looks different for everyone. Your own personal experience of grief may look different to that of the friend you are comforting. Acknowledge the loss not just in the early days, but in the months and years after the death of a loved one. Share stories and memories, remember with those who grieve. Grief never really goes away, it may change the way it looks, feels, and impacts our life, but the death of a loved one stays with us forever.
Above all else, show love.
There is much information on ways to care for those who are grieving–things to say, things not to say. But it can all be summed up by the phrase, “show love”. Don’t let fear keep you from showing love to those who grieve. Show up, bring a meal, sit, cry, be silent, give a hug, check in, but above all else, show love.
How have you been helped in your grief journey? What words or actions have ministered to you in the darkest moment? Or, how have you come alongside a loved one who is grieving?
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