3 Things Not To Say to a Loved One Who Is Grieving
When a loved one suffers a loss, it’s natural to want to provide them with comfort and support through their grieving process. While it can be difficult to know what to say during those particularly sensitive periods, it can be even harder to know what not to say.
“Everyone wants to find the perfect words of wisdom to share with someone who has experienced a great loss, but actions speak louder than words,” Alison Huff, editor-in-chief of The Roots Of Loneliness Project, tells CircleAround. “It’s important to let a person know that you’re there for them, and the biggest thing is not necessarily what you say, but what you do.”
Over the past several years, Huff has lost her father, her only sibling, and one of her closest cousins. Based on her experiences and expertise, CircleAround asked Huff to provide a few things to avoid saying to a loved one who has experienced great loss, along with alternative support to offer instead.
Don’t Say, 'I Know How You Feel'
“People often mean well when they say this, but the truth is that grief is different for everyone,” Huff tells CircleAround. “Although we can empathize with another’s pain, we don’t truly KNOW how they feel.”
Even if two people are mourning the loss of the same person or have lived through the same type of loss, their experience of grief can be vastly different from one another, she adds. In situations like this, Huff advises just listening to the grieving friend, letting them say what’s on their mind, and practicing active listening skills, like giving your undivided attention when they are speaking.
Don’t Say, 'I’m Here if You Need Someone to Talk To'
Not everyone may be as open to discussing their loss, and while this phrase is completely well-meaning, Huff emphasizes however friends shouldn’t take it personally if their loved one doesn’t take them up on the offer.
“Oftentimes, a person who is grieving doesn’t want to be a ‘burden’ on others emotionally,” she states, “So they might not call you out of the blue to talk.” There is also a chance they might not initiate a conversation about their loss with you at all.
Instead of waiting for grieving friends and family members to reach out, Huff says it can be more helpful to approach them with simple questions instead.
“Ask, ‘How are you?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ These things can open a conversation that gives you an opportunity to really listen — which, more than anything, is what a grieving person may need most,” she adds.
Don’t Say, 'What Can I Do To Help?'
A grieving person will be faced with a lot of stress and unexpected tasks, especially when a death has occurred early on. Some of these tasks, like dealing with lawyers, or making funeral arrangements, can be overwhelming, and your friend may not know where to start if you ask what you can help with right away.
Huff advises offering actionable support as an alternative. “Offer to handle some grocery shopping or other errands that need to be done,” she states. “Same with house cleaning or cooking — be there to ease the burden of those mundane tasks.” If your friend has to handle funeral arrangements, offer to go with them. With so many decisions to make, having a support system ready to pick up the everyday parts that get pushed to the side can be a huge relief.
The Bottom Line
As a friend, it’s important to show your support for others when they experience a great loss. If you’re unsure of what to say or worried about saying the wrong thing, take a more proactive approach with everyday tasks or errands instead. Most times, just being there for your friend, for whatever they need, can be enough, whether words are spoken or not.