What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

My dad was my hero. I'm sure I've said this in other blog posts that I've written. He died of cancer at age 75. Way too young in my opinion, because I wasn't ready to live my life without my hero and protector around every day

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Well-meaning people shared condolences. expressions like ”He's in a better place now”, “He's no longer suffering”, “He's gone to God”,“The Grieving will end”, “Stay strong, that's what he'd want you to do”, “at least you have memories”. but the real clincher was when a woman told me “at least your kids have their other grandfather so they'll be able to get through life with a grandfather's influence.” I wanted to scream I don't want them to have another grandfather I want them to have this grandfather. I want them to grow up with his influence in their lives.


One thing that I know to be true is that each and every one of these comments and offers of condolence came from the person's heart. They didn't realize these things come across as insensitive, especially to one so fresh in grief. My heart held compassion each time I heard or read one of these expressions of condolence.


Why do people have such a hard time expressing condolences? It's because we don't talk about death in our society and therefore it's hard to know how to help someone grieve. We don't realize that everyone grieves in their own manner, their own way. A perfect example is how my siblings and I grieved the death of my father. I have a brother that went inward and didn't share his feelings. My sister worried that my dad had not come to her in dreams and this caused her great distress. I wanted to talk about him and share stories to help me navigate my grief.


When we don’t know what to say or feel awkward, we often don’t say anything. Or we let time pass and then we feel bad that we didn’t speak up sooner, so we don’t do anything. It doesn't matter if you don't know what to say or you feel awkward or if time has passed and you feel bad about that, always acknowledge your condolences to those you care about. I guarantee you it will mean a lot. So when you don't know what to say, just say …”I don’t know what to say” or “I have no words”. Believe it or not, that means a lot to people. You will have acknowledged their loved one and that matters.


If you need some ideas on how to express your condolences, start with what's in your heart. You can say “I am so sorry for your loss”, “Your father/mother/grandma was a special person and I will remember him/her with great fondness.” Share a memory that you have of the deceased. At my father's funeral, a man came up to me and shared a story about how my father had influenced his life. I didn't know this man but his words touched my heart and I think of them often. We want to know that those we love will be remembered. If you did not know the deceased and want to support a friend say “I always enjoyed the stories you shared about____. I feel as though I had a glimpse into their personality.”


Oftentimes we will say things like “How can I help?” “Can I bring you dinner?” “If you need anything just let me know.” To me, it's better to just take action. Bring the casserole or a basket of muffins over and leave it on the doorstep, show up with cleaning supplies and help tidy up, take their kids for an adventure to give them time alone, just change the water. I read an article about just changing the water that I had never thought of. It means to just go over and change the water in the vases of all the flowers that come after someone dies. In the article I read, a young mother spoke of the death of her child and while the flowers were so beautiful they started wilting and dying and she just didn't have the energy to deal with them. One day her friend showed up and said she was just there to change the water. She took the flower arrangements and took out the dying flowers, rearranged the ones that still looked good, and changed the water in the vases. The author said that meant the world to her. If you’d like to read this insightful article, here’s a link: https://medium.com/@lauramalcolm/how-to-help-your-grieving-friend-change-the-water-in-the-flowers-be4a01440fdb


As my friend, Yvonne Heath of Love Your Life To Death says, JUST SHOW UP!


How will you express condolences next time the need arises? Will you speak from your heart? Will you just show up and change the water? Think about it!