By Nicole Kerr
Even if you have never experienced a season of grief, you at least know someone who has. We all struggle to know the right things to say and do, and there really isn’t one right way to handle these situations. But hopefully these five tips of what NOT to do will help guide you the next time someone you care about is grieving. Avoid the following:
1. “At least” statements.
“At least you got to say good bye,” “at least she lived a long life,” “at least he isn’t suffering anymore,” “at least we know they are in a better place,” “at least you have other kids or can try again,” “at least there are other ways to grow a family.” These statements may come from a heart that is caring and wants to encourage, but in most cases they do the opposite. Even though they may be true, their truth doesn’t make the loss feel any less painful. Someone that is grieving needs to have their grief acknowledged, not to be given the impression that their feelings are invalid.
2. Bringing up your own similar situation.
No two experiences are ever the same, so saying something like “I know how you feel” can diminish the other person’s feelings. When we bring up our own experiences, we are trying to show that we empathize with the grieving individual but in that moment the focus needs to be on the person who is grieving and not ourselves. Sharing your own experiences can be very helpful and welcome in the right situation, but it needs to come after acknowledging the personal grief of the individual and only if you are in a position in that person’s life to offer that kind of experience or advice.
3. Being overly emotional.
Nothing is more exhausting for someone who is grieving than the need to stop and comfort others. The ability to grieve with someone is an amazing gift, and it can be comforting to know that someone else is feeling what you feel, but the need for the grieving person to constantly reassure the people around them that they will be okay is more exhausting than helpful.
4. Asking “How do you feel?” or “How are you doing?”
This one isn’t inherently wrong, because typically we do want to know how someone is doing and we should never assume that we know how they feel. But it gets asked so often that it can feel like a generic greeting at the supermarket such as “Hi, how are you?” The other person feels expected to say, “Fine, and you?”
If the grief is new, the grieving person may really not know how they are feeling, or they may be feeling so many things that they don’t know how to explain it. And if someone is standing in a funeral receiving line, they only have time for “We are doing fine.” So unless you actually have the time to sit and listen to how the person is doing or can help them process all these emotions, it may be best to avoid the question. That being said, asking how someone is doing is far better than not acknowledging their grief at all.
5. Not saying anything
Most of the time we don’t know what to say, or we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. We get uncomfortable when people are grieving so we say nothing. We stay away to “give them space.” As someone who has been the griever many times, I can tell you that I would rather people say the wrong thing than not say anything at all. When you are grieving, it is common to feel alone, and when those who say they care about you don’t acknowledge your pain, there is nothing lonelier.
Ok, so what can we say or do when someone is grieving?
1. Let them know that you acknowledge their grief and that you are there for them.
You can start by saying, “I am so sorry for your loss. If you or your family need anything, please let us know.” In fact, offer specific ways you would be available to help. Or tell them, “I can’t imagine what you are going through. Please let me know how I can pray for you.”
2. Share memories if you knew the person that has passed.
There is nothing that feels better when you have lost someone than to remember the good times.
3. Give a tangible gift, especially if it can be a reminder of the person who was lost.
Many times along with grief comes a fear of forgetting, so a tangible, meaningful item that can serve as a positive reminder is a nice touch.
4. Pray for them.
Don’t just say you will pray, do it. If you have the opportunity, pray for them in person.
5. Give of yourself.
Even if you don’t say anything, just being with someone who is grieving is a comfort. Bring dinner over or bake them cookies. Take them out for coffee. Don’t try to force them to talk about their grief, but let them know you are there to listen if they want to. Simply being there can be more healing than the perfectly crafted condolence or a verse on a Hallmark card.
No two people grieve the same, and even one person can grieve differently for different losses. But generally speaking, letting someone know you care for them and are there to support them is never wrong. As with anything else, ask God to guide you in how to best show His love to the person in need.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”(Romans 12:15).