What To: Say to the Grieving
I went to another memorial service today, for the friend of my partner, who died unexpectedly last week.
While I knew him, he really was my partner's friend, through work, and I had only met him a handful of time, so I felt like a bit of a fraud at the service. His death is so, so sad, of course, but it isn't going to directly affect my life, and amidst the many tears and many heartfelt stories, I didn't have much to add, other than a hand to hold and some hugs.
Afterwards I ended up standing next to his dad - whom I had never met before - and wondered what to say. How do you comfort someone a week after a significant loss, especially when they don't know you? Or don't know you very well, perhaps, as in the instance a bit later, when I talked to his girlfriend.
It's easy to resort to platitudes in the face of loss, and while some may be true, they are not always helpful, and don't always come off as sincere. So next time you're comforting the freshly grieving, are some other ideas.
"I am so sorry that you are going through this."
I am absolutely guilty of saying, "I'm sorry for your loss," but I think a more genuine way of expressing it is that you're sorry that someone is going through a difficult time, and sorry that they are hurting.
"This totally sucks."
Short, sweet, and true. And sometimes, instead of hearing about better places and how time heals all wounds, it's nice to acknowledge that, yes this totally sucks. Period.
"I'm going to check in with you."
While it's very kind to offer to be there if the grieving need anything, often, those overwhelmed by shock and sorrow don't know what they need. Instead, let them know that they will be hearing from you after the chaos of the initial first week or weeks are over, and then make sure to follow through. Check in and ask if you can take them to lunch or bring them dinner or stop by for tea (or something that doesn't involve food could probably work too).
"One of my favorite memories is..."
Even if you don't know the deceased's parents or partner or close circle of friends, you can still always share your favorite memory. Memories become especially cherished after loss, and it will likely mean a lot to both hear something new, and also know that someone is preserving that memory.
What have you found helpful to say, or helpful to hear, right after loss?