If words elude you when a loved one suffers a terrible loss, try these simple statements of support and sympathy.
Posted in , Mar 11, 2020
When my father died last fall, I heard many times from people who wanted to be supportive and offer comfort but did not know what to say. After all, what words can bring comfort during such a painful time?
Something that surprised me was how many people seem to be afraid to say the wrong thing. I can understand that pressure. But rest assured—someone who has suffered a loss is going to be grieving whether you say the “right” thing, the “wrong” thing or anything in between.
That said, there are certain ways of speaking to someone in grief that are both supportive, comforting and most likely to make the person feel held and loved at an otherwise terrible time.
Here are five that are meaningful to me.
1) I am so sorry for your loss.
This classic phrase is always a good place to start. It acknowledges that the person has suffered a loss, expresses your condolence and leaves space for the grieving person to take the conversation from there.
2) This must be such a stressful time. I’d love to help. Can I bring you a meal next week?
Making a specific offer of help is supportive because it doesn’t ask the grieving person to come up with a list of things that need doing. Offer to mow the lawn, bring in mail, walk the dog—anything you can think of that might be nice to take off the mourner’s shoulders.
3) I remember….
The grieving process involves a lot of memory-reviewing. Sharing your own memories of the person who has died can help the grieving person feel less alone in their loss. Even if you only met a person once or twice—or even if you only knew a friend’s loved one through their stories about them—it will mean a lot to share your own perspective.
4) I wish I could find the right words—please just know that I care.
It’s okay, even freeing, to explicitly state that finding the right thing to say isn’t easy. Anyone who is grieving has also been in your position at one time or another, so there’s usually a shared understanding that the “right words” wouldn’t erase the pain of loss even if you could find them. Remember, your role is to be a compassionate, loving presence, not to “fix it.”
5) How is today?
A friend of mine often checked in after my father’s death with those three simple words. It was such a comfort to feel like she was available if I wanted to share where I was in my grief that day, and that I could also choose to share something unrelated, to “take a break” from mourning even for a moment.
In the end, you can also say nothing at all. In the swirl of grief, particularly in the early days after a loss, a grieving person might yearn for silence—but not solitude. Simply sitting next to, walking with or gently helping with household tasks for the grieving person might be all that’s required to signal that they are safe to feel their grief in peace.