Updated: Oct 29, 2020
Sometimes our support system can show us the most love and cause us the most pain during times of loss. What usually involves good-intentions, can quickly evolve into uncomfortable conversations and even damaged relationships.
We've all been there.
We've all said the wrong thing at the wrong time or even the right thing at the wrong time.
Unfortunately, until we've gone through a traumatic loss ourselves, we can't truly understand what to say to someone grieving—and even then, everything said is received subjectively.
Here are a few things I've learned to say/ask and not to say/ask to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one:
Things To Say/Ask When Someone Is Grieving:
1) What are two things you loved most about your loved one? Giving individuals who are grieving small, yet rewarding tasks will help them process their grief in a healthy way.
2) What are two things you miss most about your loved one? It is important for us to remember the sadness we are feeling... but it is even more important to associate that sadness with something or multiple things. If we can help people process their grief by associating the things they are feeling to the things they are missing about their loved one, it can be very beneficial for them down the road.
3) How has this loss changed the way you value relationships? Loss completely shifts the way people live. This question helps people process how that shift has affected their lives.
4) What has been a difficult task to complete since you lost your loved one? This question invites conversation but also gives you some information about how you can better walk with the person grieving.
5) If your loved one could give you some advice today, what would they say? I love this question. I think about what my dad would say to me all the time. This will spark up conversation and often bring joy and strength to the sufferer.
6) Have you given yourself permission to mourn? Too many of us try to be strong while grieving... whatever that means. This question reminds the person that it is okay and healthy to outwardly express their pain.
7) How can I walk with you? When you don't know what to ask or say, ask and say this.
8) What is one thing you need from me right now? Once again, if you're not sure what to say or ask, say and ask this.
9) Thank you so much for trusting me enough to share that with me. Opening up about our grief is vulnerable and courageous... don't take it lightly when someone trusts you with their baggage.
10) I am so proud of you. People need to be reminded that every breath is a victory to be proud of.
Things You Shouldn't Say/Ask When Someone Is Grieving:
1) Are you better yet? Grief is not an illness to be cured. It is with us for the rest of our lives.
2) Are you okay? While the intention behind this question is usually good, it often involves a dishonest and simple response.
3) If there is anything I can do, let me know. Most times people who are grieving don't have the strength to ask for help. It is better to check-in on them without being be asked. Set a reminder in your phone to reach out to the person every few days.
4) Do you miss them? This question doesn't invite conversation. Rather, ask them to share with you something they miss about them.
5) Are you struggling? Indeed they are. Don't ask if they are struggling, rather, ask them how their life has been different since they lost their loved one.
6) You'll see them again someday. Making claims about someone's Salvation can be dangerous. While the intentions are good, we don't want to invoke negative feelings from the person grieving, especially if they aren't sure whether or not they will see their loved one again.
7) I know exactly how you feel. The reality is, we don't know how the other person is feeling. Even if we have experienced a similar loss, all struggles are unique to the individual. The heart behind saying this is to encourage someone that they are not alone. So rather than saying "I know exactly how you feel," reinforce them with your words and actions that they are not forgotten and are not going to walk through their loss by themselves.
8) Everybody dies eventually. While this is true, this doesn't provide comfort to a hurting soul. Instead, it discredits the person's feelings because:"everyone goes through this."
9) It's been ______, you need to move on. There is not a timeline for grief. Grief is something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Statements like these lack empathy and understanding.
10) Others have it worse than you. In some cases, this is true. However, a statement like this discredits how the person is feeling because:"their suffering isn't quite as bad as someone else." All suffering sucks. We need to walk with the broken without comparing their brokenness.
I hope this was helpful for you as you navigate a tough calling to walk with people who are grieving. I will be praying for you as you continue to journey with individuals who are suffering.