Wrong Words

July 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Posted in Grief, mourning | 6 Comments
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I like to think the deaths of Jake and Sawyer have made me sensitive to grief.  However, I catch myself asking “how are you?” to bereaved people.  As soon as I say the words I want to take them back.  I know how hard that question is to answer when the world as you know it no longer exists.  I wish I had magic words to take away the pain.  I cannot think of any such words so I am borrowing the words of others. . .

Ways of helping grieving people are as limitless as your imagination.

  1. All that is necessary is a squeeze of the hand, a kiss, a hug, your presence. If you want to
    say something, say, “I’m sorry” or “I care.”
  2. Offer to help with practical matters: e.g., errands, fixing food, caring for children. Say, “I’m going to the store. Do you need bread, milk, etc.? I’ll get the.” It is not helpful to say, “Call me if there is anything I can do.”
  3. Don’t be afraid to cry openly if you were close to the deceased. Often the bereaved find themselves comforting you, but at the same time they understand your tears and don’t feel so alone in their grief.
  4. It is not necessary to ask questions about how the death happened. Let the bereaved tell you as much as they want when they are ready. A helpful question might be, “Would you like to talk? I’ll listen.”
  5. Don’t say, “I know just how you feel.”
  6. The bereaved may ask “Why?!” It is often a cry of pain rather than a question. It is not necessary to answer, but if you do, you may reply, “I don’t know why.”
  7. Don’t use platitudes like “Life is for the living,” or “It’s God’s will.” Explanations rarely console. It is better to say nothing.
  8. Recognize that the bereaved may be angry. They may be angry at God, the person who died, the clergy, doctors, rescue teams, other family members, etc. Encourage their anger and to find healthy ways of handling it.
  9. Be available to listen frequently. Most bereaved want to talk about the person who has died. Encourage them to talk about the deceased. Do not change the conversation or avoid mentioning the person’s name.
  10. Read about the various phases of grief so you can understand and help the bereaved to understand.
  11. Be patient. Don’t say, “You will get over it in time.” Mourning may take a long time. The bereaved need you to stand by them for as long as necessary. Encourage them to be patient with themselves as there is no timetable for grief.
  12. Accept whatever feelings are expressed. Do not say, “You shouldn’t feel like that.” This attitude puts pressure on the bereaved to push down their feelings. Encourage them to express their feelings — cry, hit a pillow, scream, etc.
  13. Be aware that a bereaved person’s self-esteem may be very low.
    Author unknown


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  1. Even as I have been and am going through the depth of grief, I fail to know what to say to others in the early stage of that depth.

    As Job’s friends came to him at the onslaught of his tragedies…
    Job 2:13 – Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.

    If I am able just to be with, and truly be available for a person in those early stages, I feel that is the best I can do. I have tried to keep my words to a simple “I am sorry and I will pray for you”

    God bless,

  2. I love this Lanie. It’s so hard to know what to say when all you want to do is take their pain away.

  3. Oddly, I had the experience of a friend asking the exact words of how are you and while it caught me off-guard for a minute, I really appreciated it. But I’m just weird. That and it’s been eight and a half months since my daughter died in utero and seven since she and her brother were delivered….

    Love the ideas…

  4. I have found that a listening heart of a good friend has been a God send for me. So many grieving people loose friends because people just can’t handle the sadness. There are many, many people around the first few days or weeks after a death – it is so important to be near and available the months (and even years) after. Grief takes time. There is no “getting over it”.. there is only getting through to the other side and hopefully surviving it. At almost one year for me I finally feel like I want to live again. Am I done grieving? No, I will grieve for the rest of my life – it only gets softer around the edges but a loss never goes away. There is always a scar; does it hurt a bit less? Yes. But people need to remember that a great loss has occurred and that loss will always be felt. Thanks for posting this list and to your readers, remember – a grieving person will not ask for help because they don’t know what they need. Pick up the reins and just do. Just be there for them and you will be blessed many times over.

  5. Lanie, you are so wise to help others help friends. You are an amazing woman. You are incredibly thoughtful. I love this post!

  6. Great post-very helpful, and it really makes you think before speaking.

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