“What can I do?”

How to avoid insensitivity and actually help someone who is grieving

Death is not something that most people feel comfortable with. It can be difficult to know how to act around death or talk about death. When someone you love suffers a loss in their life, you naturally want to comfort and support them. However, many of us do not know the words to use to do just that. This post will help anyone in that situation adjust their words and actions so they can be of help to those who are grieving.

If you don’t know what to say

You see your neighbor in the grocery store and you haven’t spoken to her since her husband passed away. You feel an impulse to run in the other direction, to pretend you didn’t notice, to feign ignorance of the situation, but guilt and neighborliness prevent you from committing such a crime. What do you say if you don’t know what to say?

Don’t apologize. When we’re in that surprised state and we don’t know what to say, often we turn immediately to apologizing for…something. “Carol! I’m so sorry I haven’t called,” or “I’m sorry I didn’t make it to the funeral, I’ve been so busy but I feel terrible…” Starting a conversation with a grieving person by talking about yourself and how busy you are is not the ideal way to be comforting. Apologizing puts a burden on them to verbally forgive you, or explain how they haven’t needed your call or the funeral was at a bad time anyway. Don’t make them make excuses for you.

Don’t pretend like nothing has happened. It can be tempting to not want to mention the grief that we know must be plaguing this person. We may even justify it by thinking thoughts like, “They must be so tired of talking about Phil’s death,” or “She’s not defined by this tragedy.” Though that inner dialogue sounds reasonable, it’s really just our embarrassment and insecurity trying to get us out of a difficult situation. Remember that you don’t decide what they are ready to talk or not talk about.

If you want to be of service

When someone very close to you is grieving, the situation changes quite a bit. We know that when our loved ones are hurting, we are hurting. When you are ready to commit your time and energy to be of service to someone who is grieving but don’t know how to make that offer, here are some things to do.

Do use empathy. Often the best service we can offer is just being present and accepting. Telling your loved one that you’ve been there, you’ve hurt before, and crying along with them may be just what they need.

Offer to carpool or chauffer. Lots of people bring over casseroles and flowers (both of which have their place), but driving the kids to school or tagging along to a doctor’s appointment may be more impactful for your grieving loved one. Doing everyday tasks and routines after a loved one has died is often the most painful part of grieving. Being alone in a car can bring on a lot of emotions, and having someone there is exactly the kind of service a grieving person could use.

 

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