What do you say at a funeral? How can you show your support to someone after their loved one has died?
It can be difficult to know what to say or do when a person you care about suffers a loss. You don’t want to say something that will make their grief more severe, or make them think you don’t care. So you might instead not say anything at all.
But most people who are grieving do want you to say something. It means you’re acknowledging their pain and sadness, which helps them face their grief and work through it. Grief is a normal and natural response to loss. It is something that must be experienced and embraced to move forward and adjust to living in a new reality without a loved one.
A family, friend, or coworker’s grief is their own. Your task isn’t to make grief “better” or “easier.” All you need to do is show them that you understand they are going through a difficult time, and that you’re here for them.
Finding the right words
It’s also recommended that they hear the facts, where you use phrases like “I know this hurts,” “I am here for you,” and “I love you.”
Even keeping that in mind, you may still not know just what to say… and that can be the thing you do say:
“I want to be helpful right now, but I truly don’t know what to say.”
“I know I won’t have the right words to say, but I am here for you.”
If you’re someone looking for the right words when a friend’s loved one is in hospice care, or after a death, try some of these:
- My heart breaks for you.
- I am here. Would you like to talk?
- I would love to hear about your loved one if you want to share.
- My favorite memory of your loved one is…
- I will be bringing over a meal on Saturday unless I hear otherwise.
Another way to show you care is to help out. Maybe you can promise to take on a task for the person who is grieving, like walking their dog every day, or bringing their mail to the house. However, saying “Call me if you need anything” isn’t helpful — someone who is grieving can’t, and shouldn’t, have to spend time and energy figuring out what they need and tracking down someone to help.
Make sure you check with the person before you do something they’re not ready for. Cleaning up the house can be helpful, but you don’t want to put away something that was supposed to be left out as a reminder of the person who was lost.
Religious statements, like “she’s in a better place,” or “God was ready for him,” may seem like a good idea. But they can sound like you don’t value the person’s grief or assume you know how the person feels or what they believe — which may not be true at all.
How to help someone who’s grieving
Grief is not something to be fixed. It’s not something that ends one day, either. Moving forward from a loss doesn’t mean leaving it in the past for good, or pretending it never happened. For someone who is experiencing grief, managing it in a healthy way means learning how to carry the loss with them throughout the rest of their life.
Your support of someone who is grieving is a life-long activity too, though what that support looks like will change over time. Don’t underestimate the power of presence. Try to remember to reach out on days that may be hard for your grieving friends such as birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. Remind them that you have not forgotten their grief and that you are there for them.
When we see the people we care about grieve, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable and sometimes helpless. Just remember, the goal is presence, not perfection. Simply recognizing that there has been a loss, and saying that you’re available if they need help or someone to talk to, can be key to supporting a friend in their grief.
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