Helping others cope with their grief is difficult, even if you have experienced your own tragic loss, but knowing what to say or what not to say can help you comfort the griever without putting him or her in additional pain.
“I think the cliches we use to try and comfort people puts a burden on them by requiring them to be strong, to not cry and to move on with life when they are in the middle of an incredibly difficult part of grief,” said Maureen Waldron, associate director of the Collaborative Ministry Office at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.
Although it isn’t always easy to support a grieving person, people can be most helpful by entering into a griever’s pain and being willing to meet them where they are.
“They don’t want to hear that it will get better,” Waldron said, “because right now their grief might make it difficult for them to even function, it could be very helpful for someone simply to be with them in that incredible grief, not to say I know how you feel.”
She added that the grief process cannot be rushed and that everyone heals at different times.
Donna McCarthy, who works as a consultant, specializing in oral and communication skills, said: “There isn’t a real formula for knowing what to say, but basically talking from the heart is often the best.”
Phrases like “my heart is broken for you,” “words fail me” and “I am so sorry for your loss” are meaningful, healing words she said.
Words to avoid, she said, include expressions like “I know what you’re going through” and “it was God’s will that this happened.”
“It’s a common temptation to use your life example and compare it to the bereaved,” McCarthy said, but “now is not the time to do it as their grieving situation is unique to them.”