One of the most difficult situations to navigate is to find the right words when someone has experienced the death of a family member, spouse, or friend. Even though our heart is in the right place, we may become tongue-tied and uncomfortable when actually facing the grieving person. Death is not an easy topic to digest, much less accept. Many of us simply are not well versed in picking the right words to convey our condolences.
While we stand there, awkwardly groping for what to say to someone who is grieving, it helps to imagine what we might appreciate hearing if the tables were turned. Take a short pause to put yourself in their shoes. What would be soothing or helpful for someone to say to you? What would not be? Knowing what not to say to someone is just as important as knowing what to say to someone who is grieving.
Grief is a complex emotional response to losing a loved one, and is completely unique to each grieving person. No two people will process the loss of a loved one in the same way. Not only are our personalities and temperaments unique and special, so too are the way our brains manage shock and emotional pain. There is no pat grieving process to guide us through loss. This helps us understand that we cannot expect to know the “correct” way to approach someone who is in the throes of sorrow.
The grief journey is unpredictable, exhausting, and full of surprises. You may encounter a friend who has just lost a spouse, but who seems completely together, stoic and strong. A month later you may cross paths again, but this time this friend is in a puddle of tears. Possibly the first time you saw them they were in shock. After a month has passed, the reality, the finality of death, has sunk in and the tears finally flow.
What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Because of the wide disparity of our emotional responses to grief and loss, it is probably wise to just stick to something simple and genuine when encountering the person in those first few months. When you find yourself at a loss for words, here are some examples of what to say to:
- I cannot imagine your pain. Just know I am here for you.
- I don’t know what to say, I am just so sad for you.
- I will never forget “John,” or his generous heart (great smile, wonderful laugh, etc.)
- This has got to be so hard for you. Here is my contact info. Please reach out any time.
- I have the best memories of us all together. She will always be right here with us in spirit.
- Do you need me to help with anything? Errands, meals, chores?
- He (or she) brought us all so much joy. What a terrible loss this is.
- My heart just aches for you, my friend. Please know I am here for you.
Avoid These Blunders
Because finding just the right words can be challenging, there is a temptation to default to worn-out clichés. Even if the words are heartfelt and you do really mean them, these standard phrases might just come off as insincere:
- My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.
- I am so sorry for your loss
- My deepest sympathy to you and the family
While there is technically nothing wrong with these oft-used sentiments, they lack a feeling of sincerity that is so important to the person who is so profoundly sad. Try to avoid boilerplate comments.
Actions Can Be Just as Important as Words
While compassionate words expressing your sympathy for a friend or family member are helpful to the grieving individual, actions are at least as important. This is because actions require more thought and planning, and convey a higher level of thoughtfulness. Some examples of kind acts one could take for someone who is grieving:
- Coordinate meals for the family for a week or two after the death. When grief hits there is very little energy for grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up. Help a friend out by organizing meals in the early days of grief.
- Ask some friends or family members to go in on gift of some special pampering. Collect money for a massage, facial, or a pedicure and they will think of you and smile while enjoying it.
- Select a special book that is relevant to the situation (loss of a spouse, a parent, a friend, a child) and write a personal inscription in the front cover. Years later when he or she comes upon the book again they will know who gave it to them
What to Do if Depression Sets In
Loss of a loved one is a common risk factor for clinical depression. While most people can cycle through the grieving process in a certain time frame, others may become stuck in the depths of sorrow. If a few of the other symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss or gain, sleep disruptions, loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed, feelings of helplessness, guilt, shame, or talk of suicide are also present, it is important for the person to be evaluated for depression.
Treatment for depression usually involves a combination of antidepressant drug therapy and psychotherapy. The medication can help rebalance the brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, and the therapy can provide a safe, supportive place to share the deep feelings of loss.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Helpful Information For Those Battling Depression
The Treatment Specialist fulfills an important role in providing guidance for individuals with mental health conditions. Many times it isn’t always evident that what you are experiencing following a loss is a depressive episode. The Treatment Specialist can help you sort through the symptoms of depression and discover treatment options that are just right for you. For more information about grieving and depression, please reach out for help about treatment options at (866) 644-7911.