I talked with a friend recently who has experienced a personal loss. As a therapist, I know the best thing I can do is to offer support and sympathy. As a friend, this was difficult because I wanted so badly to have the right words to “make them feel better” and even an urge to “fix” their problem. It got me to thinking about how difficult this situation is for many people. What do you say to someone grieving a deceased loved one, or to someone fighting a terminal illness? I am even referring to people experiencing difficult life struggles, such as the loss of a job, divorce, or finding out your child has a terminal illness or disability. These all entail grief in some way and are highly distressful.
The unfortunate news is that we all will be put in this position many times throughout our lives. The good news is that knowing what to say and do is actually pretty simple. Let them know you care. That’s all. You don’t have to have magic words, or a solution, or an explanation. Just tell them you care.
Examples of what to say:
These examples convey to the person that you are sympathetic to their personal sorrow and that you want to be supportive for their needs.
- “I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
- “I’m here whenever you need me.”
- “Although I can’t know exactly how you feel, I understand how difficult this must be for you.”
- “I’m off all week if you need me to come over. Just call me.”
- “Let me know when you are ready to talk or have lunch. I’m here for you anytime.”
- “Your ‘loved one’ was such an amazing person and my life was blessed by their friendship.”
- No words- just a sincere and warm hug or touch will do.
Examples of what may NOT be the right words:
These examples can convey that you think you know exactly how they feel, are trying to fix their problem, trying to find some reason for what happened, or minimize the grief. As a grieving person, these comments don’t typically feel good at the moment. But remember, everything has a time and place too.
- “It was their time.”
- “Maybe God is trying to teach a lesson in all this.”
- “I know how you feel.”
- “You can always have another child.”
- “At least you had 10 good years.”
In the past, I have said some things that were not the best, but they were all with a good heart. If you have said some things in the “not good” example list, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s most important that you cared enough to even be there any say something. For the next time you are confronted with a grieving friend, remember to keep it simple and just be there for your friend or family member.
Have you ever experienced a loss or gone through a difficult time? If so, what were some of the most comforting words or actions you received from others?
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