First of all, let me say that I am in no way qualified to give expert advice on this topic. I am not trained in grief counseling. This is just what I’ve learned through personal experience. Hopefully it can help someone.
My dad died two years ago. No one was expecting it. It changed everything about my family. It changed me.
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who’s mourning. Death doesn’t make sense. Separation from the ones we love is the ultimate expression of sin. That’s why Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate expression of victory. But right now, we still have to deal with death. It isn’t natural, and no verbal expression will ever be enough to eradicate loss. And yet, ignoring someone’s grief isn’t good either.
Even now, I still don’t know what to say to people who are dealing with the death of someone close to them. But I do know more than I used to, so here’s some advice.
1. There aren’t right and wrong things to say.
Some days I didn’t want to talk about I was going through at all. Other days I was dying for someone to ask me how I was doing. There were some people I wanted to talk to and other people I didn’t want to talk to. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by questions, and other times I welcomed them. One day someone might say something to me that was comforting, and the next day I would find the same comment aggravating. So there’s no list of right and wrong things to say. There aren’t magic words that are always going to help, because every person and every day is different.
2. Don’t feel pressured to let them know that you understand what they’re going through.
Well-meaning people, thinking that it will help the grieving individual to know that other people have also experienced grief, will talk about the loved ones they’ve lost. I didn’t appreciate it at all. Some people who grieve may, but I felt like anyone who tried to compare my grief to theirs was trying to “one-up” me. I would talk about what I was going through, and instead of receiving sympathy, I would instead have to listen to someone talk about their own grief. Again, let me say, some people who grieve might appreciate knowing that they’re not the only ones who’ve ever lost someone, but I felt like what I was going through was being trivialized.
3. Let them know you care.
There aren’t right and wrong things to say. But if you’re unsure about whether to say anything at all, I think it’s better to let someone know you care about them and are aware that they’re going through something really hard. Even if I wasn’t receptive to discussion at the time, I still remember which friends tried to talk to me and which friends didn’t make any effort at all. I didn’t want other people to ignore the fact that I was going through something that consumed all of my heart and mind, even if it was painful for me to talk about at the time. So, if you’re unsure, speak up. You won’t regret letting someone know you love them.
4. Tell them you’re praying for them.
Of course, make sure you actually have been praying for them. But if sometimes you don’t know what to say, this lets them know they’re on your heart. Our greatest helper is God, who comforts the brokenhearted and knows what every person faces.
5. Don’t forget.
Time passes, but grief doesn’t pass so quickly. It can be easy to forget what our friends are dealing with, but chances are, they haven’t forgotten. Don’t bring it up everyday, but every once in a while, it’s nice to ask how they’re doing. When you’ve lost someone, it can feel like everyone else is going on as if nothing happened, while the whole world looks different to you. So it helps to know that someone remembers.
That’s all. Be compassionate to one another.