Though the right words can comfort someone who is grieving, it's not always appropriate or reasonable to try to comfort with words. Comforting without words often takes action and effort, and may even be appreciated more than mere words of sympathy.
The first time you encounter someone who is grieving, your first inclination might be to say something about how sorry you are. Words can feel empty to a person who is grieving, and it is actions that they will remember as comforting more so than spoken cliches.
The Power of Touch
Touch can be incredibly comforting, but it's not appropriate in all circumstances. If you aren't close to the person, a hug may feel intrusive and uncomfortable and far from comforting. If you are close to the person grieving, a hug can prompt the release of oxytocin, which lowers stress levels. And while a hug or hand-holding certainly isn't going to make the grief go away, it's a tangible, intimate demonstration of caring.
The person grieving may need nothing more than to someone to sit and listen to them as they try to process their loss. While you likely aren't qualified to usher them through the stages of grief unless you're a licensed mental health professional, you can sit and listen. Listen attentively for as long as the person wants to talk, and if appropriate, hold their hand or put your arm around them so they feel safe and comforted.
Grief can feel more profound when moments come where the deceased would typically be there - the grieving person feels their absence acutely at these times and may feel comforted if you show up at those times. Consider a widow who used to attend church services every Sunday with her husband. As the Sunday following his death approaches, make arrangements to be right there, sitting next to her throughout the service. You might even show up at her house to drive her to the service. You don't have to fill the silence with words of comfort - your effort and presence will provide comfort.
Fill the Gaps
When the death of a person puts someone in a financially precarious position (such as when the main breadwinner passes away unexpectedly), help out where you can. You don't have to make a grand display of your generosity; instead, do these things anonymously and without expecting recognition. Here are some ideas:
- Contact local utility companies and pay the family's bill. As long as you have the family's name and address, you should be able to do this without violating any privacy laws.
- Send gift cards to grocery stores (preferably ones that deliver) or eateries. Think along the lines of easing not only the financial burden of feeding the family but the emotional toll it can take to have to pull a meal together every night.
- Arrange to pay for extras that the family typically enjoyed before the death, such as sports for the kids or tuition for preschool.
- Organize an offering among close friends to provide some funds to the family.
- Host a community fundraiser - but only if the family is agreeable to it. Some might consider this a violation of privacy.
- Start a college fund for the children left behind.
Help doesn't have to be financial. Offering to babysit, run errands, provide meals, or clean the house are all things you can do to demonstrate you care. It's important here to not give a vague, "Let me know if you need anything" statement to the person grieving. They're probably feeling overwhelmed and don't have the time or patience to arrange all the offers of help. Instead, offer specific help: "I'll bring dinner over on Thursday night at 6:00. Does that work?" Follow up on any offer of help with action; empty promises of help will only serve to add more grief to someone already grieving.
Mementos or Gifts
A small gift can go a long way in comforting someone who is grieving, especially when the gift is thoughtful. Plenty of trinkets are available that are marketed specifically to grieving people and are designed to bring comfort, but you will show you care more with gifts that have a personal touch. Consider things along these lines:
- A blanket made from clothing the deceased used to wear.
- A small donation made to an organization the deceased cared about, or one that pertains to the illness or ailment that caused the death.
- Purchase a placard or tile made available through places the deceased loved, such as a park bench at a favorite park or a seat at the local community theater.
- Create a photo book filled with favorite photos of the deceased. Add quotes of their favorite sayings throughout the book.
Genuine Care Is Best
Comforting someone you truly care about doesn't require words, but it does require action and effort. Your kindness and care will be remembered by the person grieving and appreciated for a long time to come.