Programs at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Ways to Express Your Sympathy When a Loved One is Grieving

Facing the grief of a close friend or family member is sometimes a difficult thing. You might be struggling for meaningful ways to express your support — and in our culture, where death is often a taboo subject, it’s hard to find comforting words. The most important thing to remember is this: even the smallest gesture will be appreciated.

The touch of your hand, your willingness to accept tears and anger without judgment, or even just your silent company will all speak volumes, and wrap the grieving person in a warm blanket of love when they need it most. Remember too, that the grieving process takes time. The days and weeks immediately following a death your grieving friend may be inundated with helpful visitors, flowers, sympathy cards and dinners. But your friend will need your support for months to come. So continue to be available as much as possible, and practice some thoughtful ongoing ways to express your sympathy.

Saying the right words

Grieving is an intensely personal process. Even if you’ve been through a similar loss, your grieving friend is having a completely different experience than yours. Words that you think are reassuring and comforting may sound hollow and cliched to someone else. With the very best intentions, you may still say things that cause the griever to feel you’re judging, rushing, or discounting their loss.

Try to avoid saying things like “I know how you feel” — because you don’t. “I can’t believe how brave you’re being” might actually sound like, “Don’t cry in front of me.” And the classic, “He would have wanted you to move on with your life” could very well translate into “Get over it already.”

It’s a much better idea to use open statements that allow the griever to feel whatever it is they’re feeling and understand that you’re there to help. Here are a few examples:

I’m so sorry.

I wish I knew the right words, but please know I love you. Go ahead and cry if you need to.

Is it OK if I call every now and then to see how you’re doing? You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Knowing what to do

The death of a loved one, whether sudden or expected, can paralyze the people who are left behind. There are many ways you can provide support for your friend, beginning with the days leading up to the funeral or memorial service. Keep in mind that it may not be enough to ask what help is needed — be specific, and ask questions like, “Would you like me to make those calls for you?”

Offer to be the contact person for friends and family arriving from out of town and be present to answer the telephone if your friend agrees. Make yourself available for babysitting when necessary. Help visiting guests find affordable accommodations, or clear out your spare room and host them yourself. Make sure there’s always something good to eat in your friend’s home, and bring it over in a disposable container to save hassles later.

Ask if your friend would like you to stay in his or home for a few days. If their spouse has passed away, this may be their first time sleeping alone in many, many years. Helping them through this kind of transition can be invaluable. Give freely of whatever services are in your skill set. Do the laundry a few times, mow the grass, or run the dishwasher. Whether you’re a fantastic cook, an avid gardener or a practicing attorney, there will probably be ways you can help.

Be there for the long haul

It will take time for your friend to accept this loss and start living again. Make sure you’re there for the whole process. Don’t wait for a phone call — check in frequently without being asked. Be especially attentive to your friend’s needs on weekends and holidays, as these are often emotionally loaded times.

Share your interests, and encourage your friend to get out every now and then. Lunch dates, walks in the park, sports events, shopping trips, and classes of all kinds — from pottery to horseback riding — are all great ways to socialize and get active again.

Above all, know that death is a situation you cannot “fix,” as much as you might want to. It is both a process and a journey. Be patient, be loving, and be supportive — without judgment and without timelines.

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