How to Talk To Someone Dealing With a Loss

What do you say to someone who is grieving the death of a loved one?

I recently experienced the loss of a person who was important to many people at the company I work for.

For a few hours everyone was given a reprieve from their duties while our managers fed us sandwiches and even brought in a grief counselor. I didn’t have any close ties with the person who passed away, but many of my coworkers did.

I found myself wanting to distance myself from them out of awkwardness. Many had red eyes from crying and held pain in their hearts. I didn’t emotionally respond in like manner. In fact, their response made me feel uncomfortable. But I cared about these people who were grieving. I wanted to reach out and help them in any way I could, to bring some sort of comfort.

This is what I would have liked to have known that heavy day in the office.

First off, here is what not to say:

“You must miss him/her so much.”; “He wouldn’t have wanted you to be sad.”; “At least it wasn’t painful.”; “It could have been worse.”; “It happens to everyone.”; “I know how you feel.”

Most want the person grieving to look on the bright side or realize the positives. However, although your intentions may be good, saying anything that tells them they “should” respond in a certain way only makes things worse. Instead of letting the person process, you have indirectly set an expectation on them. This could lead to more energy going to their external response, weighing whether it is “right” or “wrong,” than to their internal processing, which is the only thing that will ultimately lead to healing. If they do miss the person who passed, saying, “You must miss them,” simply just does not help. If they are not missing this person then saying, “You must miss them,” will quite possibly only inflict guilt. We want to relate and communicate understanding. But when has someone saying that they know how you feel ever helped?

So how do you respond?

What one really needs in that moment is to know that they will be supported and have friends ready to help when they need it. There are different stages of grief and everyone grieves differently. Be a friend who is available to listen, to provide a shoulder to cry on, or to go to the movies for a distraction and a good laugh.

Don’t be afraid to admit the truth, and with compassion say, “I can’t imagine what you are going through right now. But I am here for you in any way that I can help.”

This proved true in my situation at work too. For those who were hurting the most, it meant a lot when their coworkers simply showed up in the room and shared a sandwich with them.

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