Even if it doesn't seem appropriate at the time, there are some things to say to a grieving person that really are sincere and compassionate. The key is to speak from your heart and avoid saying anything that tells the person to move on or deal with his or her grief.
Approaching a Grieving Person
The death of a loved one is typically a very private time for most individuals. Those closest to the deceased may not want visitors or even phone calls during the first couple of days -- or even weeks -- after the death. It's important to read these cues when first approaching a grieving person. The same goes if you are unable to attend the funeral or wake, or if one is not conducted. Approach with sensitivity, and if possible, send your sympathy in person or on the telephone. Things to keep in mind:
- Unless you are extremely close to the survivors, wait until the wake or funeral to make contact.
- When you do speak to them, keep your conversation brief.
- Express sympathy without being too dramatic.
- Do not go on about yourself or your life unless it specifically pertains to the person grieving.
- If the mourner looks too upset or tired to talk, end your conversation.
- Try to read the grieving person's cues; if he or she wants or needs you around, you will know.
- If applicable, simply hold out your hand to hold; no words are needed.
- While e-mailing is appropriate, don't expect to hear back in a timely manner; the person grieving may not be checking e-mail during this time.
- Sending a text message is not appropriate.
- Only send condolences on the bereaved person's social networking profile, such as Facebook or MySpace, if he or she has already posted about the death.
- It is OK to send a sympathy card or letter expressing your condolences.
Appropriate Things to Say to a Grieving Person
As a child, you were probably told if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. The same goes when finding things to say to a grieving person. Many times, you may think that what you are saying is comforting, but in essence, it is not. Some things to say to a grieving person include:
- "I'm sorry."
- "Let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
- "What can I do for you?"
- "It's OK to cry and it's OK to hurt."
- "I miss (insert name), too."
- "I don't know what I should say." (Honesty is always best.)
- "You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers."
- "Let me know when you want to talk."
Tailor your condolences to the person who has died. For instance, what you say to a parent who has lost a young child is somewhat different than what you would say to a person who has lost a very elderly grandparent. While both losses are valid, the mourners may feel these losses at different levels of intensity. It is OK to comfort these families, but choose your words carefully.
What Not to Say
When it comes to expressing your sympathy, there are instances where people really don't know what to say. Unless you have gone through a similar loss, then it is best not to say you understand. If you are looking for the right words, here are some things to avoid:
- "You have an angel in Heaven."
- "God doesn't really give you more than you can handle."
- "It was his/her time."
- "How are you feeling?"
- "Are you feeling better today?"
- "He/she is not in pain anymore."
- "You can always have more children" (if the loss was child).
- "He/She is no longer a burden" (if caring for a disabled or elderly person).
- "Tomorrow is new day."
- "Now you have time for yourself."
A Final Note
If you are close to the person who is grieving, you will find it in your heart to know what to say. Many times, sympathy just comes naturally. Although, if you find yourself in a situation where you really don't know what to say, take comfort in knowing you have options.