When dealing with loss, one of the most challenging things for many people is knowing how to comfort someone who has recently lost a loved one. Knowing what to say and when to say it can be challenging, which is why it is important to keep the following things in mind.
Following the loss of a loved one, many people feel pressured to say the right thing. What the bereaved may need you to do instead is simply listen. Allow that person to express how he or she is feeling without being judgmental. It’s not what you say, but your actions during this time that are important. Don’t feel as though you need to make conversation or get the other person to talk things out. Simply showing your support with a hug or a pat on the back will likely be sufficient.
When the time does come for you to express your regrets, it’s important to avoid using clichés such as “I’m sorry for your loss”, or “At least he didn’t suffer.” Instead, express your support by letting your friend know you are just a phone call away. Let that person know that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for help, and that you are willing to be the one that he or she can lean on when things get rough. Few people extend themselves to a grieving person in such a manner, so you can be sure your offer of assistance will be especially heartwarming.
While it’s customary to send a sympathy card when someone passes, nothing means more than a handwritten letter. You don’t have to be an eloquent writer in order to express your deepest regrets over the passing of a loved one. Even a short note saying “you are in my thoughts and prayers” will have a greater impact than a store-bought card any day.
Not everyone follows the same timeline when it comes to grieving, nor does everyone grieve in the same way. As such, it is very important not to judge someone because you feel that person is grieving inappropriately. Never tell someone to “get over it” or “stop acting inappropriately”, as this will likely drive a wedge between you that could be extremely difficult to close. Instead, continue to listen and offer support just as you did when the loss was first discovered.
Make every effort to validate the bereaved’s emotions, but avoid giving unsolicited advice. However, if you notice destructive behavior such as alcohol or drug abuse, suicidal tendencies, or severe depression, please do what you can to ensure the grieving individual obtains counseling. These are not healthy methods of grieving, and indicate a more serious problem that you personally are likely not equipped to handle.
It’s important to remember that the grieving process can take several months. The first holiday without that special someone is likely to be extremely hard, which is why follow-up calls are so important. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend how he or she will be dealing with a special occasion. If necessary, extend a dinner invitation or drop by for a personal visit to ensure that person does not have to spend important days alone.
Talking to a close friend after he or she has lost a loved one is something that truly frightens a lot of people. If you’re one of them, you may find yourself actually avoiding your friend because you fear saying the wrong thing. The best advice we can give is to express your concern through carefully-planned actions that will help to back up your words.