As we age, it’s understandable that we will be faced with situations that will require our condolences—illness, death, divorce—unpleasant turns in life where our family or friends will need our support.
Some people are comfortable offering comfort and seem to know the “right” things to say. Then there are others of us who feel awkward and just don’t know what to say or do. Here are some pointers on how to approach or help your grieving relative or friend:
Let’s cover the “Don’t” list first…
1. Don’t ignore the situation, especially if you are close to the person who is in shock or grieving. No matter how uncomfortable you feel, force yourself to call, write a card or an email, or go visit. Even if you have to say, “I don’t know what to say,” it’s better than abandoning them because of your own discomfort. They are the ones in crisis.
2. Don’t use clichés: “Everything happens for a reason,” “It must have been his time to go,” “You’ll become stronger from this.” These are horrible things to say to someone whose heart is in pain. Using clichés are ways we take a seriously vast emotional matter and try to manage it more easily by being “flippant” (even if we use a caring tone.)
3. Don’t mention God: “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Well, maybe he/she just did. It’s probably better to stick to the circumstances at hand instead of diverting feelings or responsibility onto God.
Here’s a list of “Do’s”:
1. React immediately, but don’t make it about you. Expressing condolences and offering to help is great. Listing things you can do may be overwhelming. Alternately, asking what you can do to help may not receive a response.
Chances are, your friend doesn’t have the wherewithal or strength to think clearly. Just pick something and do it. Make a hot meal, bring over coffee, walk their dog, pick up their kids, make phone calls, etc.
2. Listen: Let your family member or friend talk and talk. Allow them time to speak aloud about their feelings, recalling memories, cuss in anger, ask “why” questions, anything they need to say. Listening will mean the world. Nodding and hugging are perfectly appropriate responses. It’s not a time for lecturing, advising, or offering your viewpoint (unless it’s asked for.)
3. Be there: Be in the patient presence of the griever. “It’s the fellowship of suffering.” Spending time together, whether it’s just sitting by their side, washing their dishes, watching a movie, or going for a walk, it’s the company that matters. Most of all, think about what actions or words would give you the most comfort if the tables were turned. Care counts.