There’s not much you CAN say that helps someone who is actively grieving a significant loss - all they want is their person back or their previous life back, but this is always a question that people ask me…
So here’s my list of 5 Things TO SAY to a griever and, more importantly, why.
1. “I am SO SO sorry this happened (or is happening).”
Key is, you have to say this so very genuinely. If you type it, make sure it comes out in your tone - which is always tricky.
“I’m so sorry” is something that grievers here a lot - and quite frankly, in my personal experience, what my own children have told me, and what my clients have told me - we get tired of it.
But if it’s genuine… if we can feel your heart breaking with us, we don’t feel as alone in that moment and that helps.
2. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through…”
People are constantly helping grievers not feel alone, so they say lots of things like “I know how you feel…” But the thing is, you don’t.
Even if your significant loss is the same, what your friend is feeling is NOT what you were feeling because everyone is different - personalities, experiences, relationships, perspectives, all of it! Which means EVERYONE IS UNIQUE.
Plus, you never want to bring the focus away from the griever… we always want them to be at the center of your care circle. If you start talking about you or another loss you’re aware of, now you’re comparing and we don’t want to do that.
Saying “I can’t imagine what you’re going through…” validates that your friend is unique and it actually invites them to share their thoughts and feelings if they are up for it.
Grievers have a natural and normal need to talk and tell their story, but only when they want and feel up to it because grieving is so incredibly painful.
3. “I don’t know if you know this story, but…”
Tell your grieving friend a story about her person.
We love it.
Whether it be funny or sentimental… share how it impacted you.
A griever kind of collects all the things they know about their person. We naturally go into something called “The Relationship Review” where we think of all the things - good, bad, mundane - and they’re all important to us.
I remember collecting written stories from direct messages, comments left on social media threads, emails, and written letters and cards of my husband for my children. One day they might want to sift through those stories that we didn’t know about - about the influence their dad had on others and the ripple effects that might create.
4. “There are no words, but know that my heart is with you…”
Again, there are literally are no words to make things better, just state the truth. And this is it.
5. “I’m coming over on Tuesday to/for ______.”
Many people tell their friends that they’re available to be called at any time for any reason. But the thing is, we won’t call. Because there’s nothing you can do or say to help. And we don’t want to bother you. PLUS, nothing matters, everything is trivial.
Grievers need you. We need help.
It’s best for you just to do. Just show up.
Text us and say something like “I’m bringing dinner over on Thursday around 5 if that works, I’ll leave it on the front porch and ring the doorbell so you don’t have to see or talk to anyone. We love you and we’re so sorry that you’re going through this!”
OR “I’m sending my husband over on Sunday afternoon - just ignore him - he’s gonna clean out your gutters before the big rain next week for you! We love you so much, you’re not alone in this.”
Your grieving friend will appreciate this, it needs done, but we won’t ask for it and we have absolutely NO ENERGY to do anything but grieve because grieving is fucking exhausting.
As my best friend, Melissa, told my community in my deep grief, “if something’s on your heart, just do it.”
It is love in action.
*BONUS* SAY NOTHING, BE PRESENT & LISTEN.
There is NOTHING you can say to make things better. But your presence helps, even if nothing is said between the two of you. Offer a hug. Sit next to your friend. Hold their hand.
If they go to lay down, ask them if they want you to go back with them. If you’re a good enough friend or family member, lay with them.
Show up for them. Listen. Love. Be a heart with ears and no mouth.
You are supposed to grieve when you suffer significant loss. And I’m sorry because I know from personal experience just how incredibly painful it is… BUT YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO GRIEVE FOREVER!
I can help… and it starts here: