How do you talk to someone who has just lost a loved one? How do you help them through their grief and loss? What do you say or not say? This article will give you some pointers on talking to a bereaved person and what to say to be supportive and helpful without being intrusive or presumptuous.
Let your friend do most of the talking. He may have questions for you, and he might need to vent. But don’t worry if it seems like he doesn’t want to talk about his loss. Often, just being with someone who cares makes grieving people feel better.
If you’re at a loss for words, saying I’m sorry for your loss can be comforting—and true. Listening often helps bereaved people feel less alone and more supported during their grief. And it also allows them to say goodbye in their way without worrying about how they sound or what they say.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
If you’re not sure what to say, ask questions. A bereaved person will be more than happy to talk about their loved one with you, and questions can help keep a conversation going. It may feel awkward at first but keep at it. Don’t worry about saying something stupid—there are no stupid questions in these situations.
Also, remember that while we often associate grief with sadness, it’s perfectly normal for people who’ve lost someone close to them to experience happiness again (it can even be powerful and comforting). If talking about happier memories isn’t appropriate at that moment, try bringing up another topic of discussion instead.
3. Take your time
It’s hard enough to lose someone you love, so it’s important to remember that there are no deadlines for how long it will take them to move on. Even if someone has been mourning for years, don’t rush their process. If they want to talk about their loss and memories, let them—they may need that outlet more than you realize. Listen carefully.
People who have lost loved ones can feel like they aren’t being heard or understood. So when talking with a bereaved person, be sure to pay attention and acknowledge their feelings and experiences in your response.
4. Give them space and comfort.
Asking how you can help communicates your willingness to be there for them. If you’re not sure what someone needs, asking what they want from you is a gentle way of finding out. But remember: Everyone grieves differently, so don’t take it personally if someone isn’t ready or willing to talk right away.
Just do what feels most comfortable for you and keep checking in with your loved ones about how they’re doing. Sometimes the best bereavement gifts are those you can send when people need their space.
5. It’s ok if you get things wrong!
Many of us want to say something, but we’re worried that what we say will be wrong. Remember: The most important thing is to express your sympathy and offer support. It’s ok if you don’t know what to say or say it clumsily – they won’t think any less of you.
Your job is to be with them and let them know they can trust you. If they want answers, point them in a direction that could help – such as informing them about helpful local resources.
6. Try showing up with food or helping out around the house.
We know talking to someone who’s lost a loved one can be difficult. What do you say? Saying something—anything—is always better than saying nothing at all. If you’re on good terms with them, try showing up with food or helping out around their house somehow.
It shows you care and think of them, even if you’re unsure what else to say. If they mention a hobby or pastime that means something to them, talk about how they enjoyed it before their loss and how much that activity meant.
7. Ask how they want you to help, e.g., making arrangements or doing chores around the house.
It may be tempting to tell someone who has lost a loved one what you think they should do, but that’s not helpful. Instead, ask how you can help them with their tasks, e.g., making arrangements or doing chores. This way, they feel in control of their day-to-day life while receiving support from you and others close to them.
It’s also okay to say that you don’t know what to say or how you can help them; sometimes, your honesty is precisely what someone needs for them to share about themselves. Don’t wait for others expectantly; offer your support and listen if they choose to open up more about themselves.
What do you say when talking to a bereaved person? In reality, there are no quick fixes for these situations. Often, it comes down to saying I’m sorry. The good news is that those three words pack quite a punch in their own right. Don’t be afraid to say it. It may be all they need to hear.