What to say to the grieving

Your best friend has just lost her husband and you see her walking toward you at the store. If you have not lost your .....

by Paul Fiorini


Your best friend has just lost her husband and you see her walking toward you at the store. If you have not lost your spouse/partner, you may feel awkward or even scared. You may want to turn around or walk by without saying anything, because what do you say or do? That is a normal response. But not helpful to the grieving. This person you care about. So what can you say and what should you not say? What can you do?


The most important thing is to show you care. Attempt to keep the relationship going. That may not be easy at first as they may need time to be alone to be with their grief or they just don’t have any energy. So please try and contact them more than once.


Still one of the hardest things I hear from the grieving in the support groups I facilitate is that all of a sudden friends they had seem to abandon them after the death of their spouse. They are already profoundly lonely and this throws oil on that fire.


OK, so what do I not say? Don’t say you’ve “been there” unless you have had the same loss. Don’t talk about keeping a positive attitude. That is asking the impossible. Don’t say anything about God’s plans or good coming out of bad. Don’t start a sentence with “At least” or “I know just how you feel.” Don’t say “You’ll get over it in time” or “Aren’t you over this yet?” All of these either make the grieving feel guilty or angry, not heard or understood at the most painful time in their lives or you have turned the conversation to you and not the grieving.


They want to hear you talk about their loved one and your memories of them. That may make them cry and that is OK. Grief is a form of love — one of the hard parts of love. Tears are a release of that form of love.


Please, offer assistance. However, for the newly bereaved it is most helpful to offer specific help like meals, trips to the store or helping them organize all the financial details they have to deal with. This is because they are often in an emotional fog and don’t even know what they need.


Please feel free to say “I’m so sorry,” “I have no idea what this must be like,” “I’m here to listen to you,” “Want to go out for a walk or coffee?,” “Can I call you?,” “You can call me anytime,” or “Would you like a hug?” Many of the bereaved like touch at this time. They have just lost the person who was their main source of physical contact. Just ask first.


So please reach out to the grieving and the bereaved and let them guide you to what they need or just make an offer and see what happens. Please try more than once and don’t take it personally if they say “no” the first time. In doing this you give them the greatest gift possible after they lost their loved one — human contact and caring.


Editor’s note: Watch for information in September regarding the formation of a bereavement group here in Forks. Paul Fiorini is a chaplain/bereavement coordinator at Assured Hospice of Clallam and Jefferson Counties.