In my job as a pastoral minister, I often work with families who are grieving. So when I consider the title of this post, I’m moved to comment—first of all—on what NOT to say to a friend who’s lost a loved one. So I’ll begin there and move on to some helpful things to say.
What NOT to say:
1. “I know how you feel.” Even if you have experienced a loss very similar to the person you’re trying to comfort, it is never really the case that you know how another person feels. While you may be able to relate, let that empathy be expressed in alternate ways (see below).
2. “God never gives you more than you can handle.” This can imply that your friend is weak if she’s having a hard time bearing up under the loss.
3. “He/she is in a better place.” Again, this statement is intended to be comforting but can be received differently, i.e. “His/her life here was bad; it’s a good thing he/she has moved on.”
4. “Call me if you need anything.” People who are grieving are so inundated with tasks, contacts, and emotions that they frequently forget who offered help. A better line is, “I’ll call you tonight/tomorrow/next week to see what you need.”
5. “He/she wouldn’t want you to be sad.” This statement invalidates the person’s grief. It’s important for the person to be able to cry, feel sad or any of the other emotions that accompany grief.
Some suggestions on what TO say:
1. “I am so sorry for your loss.” Or even, “I am so sorry for the pain you are going through.”
2. “I am here for you.” All the better if you can translate that into some concrete presence: e.g. to run errands for the person, cook a meal, offer to take the person out to lunch or take care of her children, etc.
3. “I am praying for you.” Maybe your friend would like you to spend some time in prayer with her. Ask her!
4. “I can tell you loved him/her very much.” This line gives your friend an opportunity to share about her loved one who has died.
Should I send Flowers?:
While flowers are a lovely gesture, it may be nice to wait a little while to send them. In the midst of the immediate grief, they may not be noticed. But sending them a week or two later to let your friend know that you are still thinking of her can be powerful.
When in doubt, say nothing at all. Silent presence is a powerful gift. The willingness to be with a person in silence takes courage, trust in the Spirit, and vulnerability. Perhaps the best thing to offer is a hug and a shoulder to cry on. And tissue, of course!
What has been helpful to you when you were grieving? Please share below!