Things that are helpful to say or do:
- Share favorite memories you have of our loved one or how they impacted your life. “The thing I’ll remember the most about John was his contagious laugh.” “Mary was my mentor and helped me in so many ways.”
- A simple “I’m sorry.” with a long hug or hand holding. Being comfortable with silence and just listening without commenting.
- Specific practical offers, rather than “call me if you need anything.” Schedule a night to bring dinner, offer to bring over stamps and write a stack of thank you notes, mow the yard, or drive the kids to activities.
- Regular check- ins. “How did you survive today?” Especially on special occasions such as the anniversary of the death or their birthday. Send cards. The second year may be even harder than the first.
- Continued invitations to social gatherings, without any expectation to stay the entire event. Keep asking, even if the answer is often “Not today.”
Things that are not helpful to say or do:
- Any religious cliche, especially if you don’t share the same faith.
- “You should be grateful they are not suffering, remember they are in a better place.” “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
- Unsolicited advice of any kind. “You should think of the good times.” “Remember time will heal.” “Be strong, kiddo, you’re the man/woman of the house now.”
- “I know just how you feel. When my father died, I blah, blah blah…”
- “You can have more children.” or “At least you have your other children.”
- Anything judgmental- “You should be moving on my now, it’s been a year.” “You go to the grave too much.” “Don’t feel guilty, angry, etc.” “You need to talk about it more.”
- Avoidance, especially if it was a suicide or homicide.
The truth is most of us have said the wrong thing to a grieving person at one time or another. It may help to remember that saying the perfect thing to a griever doesn’t have the magical power to take away their pain any more than saying the wrong thing will scar them forever. What people always remember is if we showed up and if we left them with a feeling of compassion.