Think it through before you speak

Think it through before you speak

Our culture is filled with common clichés, worn-out one-liners, and overused platitudes surrounding death. Let’s cut right to the chase and say that these are not particularly helpful when it comes to responding to a person who’s grieving the death of a loved one. Let’s mention a few:

I’m sorry for your loss.

What? You mean I can’t use this one? What will I say instead? First, this is so overused that it often isn’t even heard by the grieving person. Second, it reveals that we haven’t put much thought into what to say. Take the time to mentally compose a heart-felt phrase that communicates your unique relationship with this person. Look them in the eye and say something like, “He was so special to many people. His absence is a great loss to our family/community/church. I’ll call you soon to check in on you.”

There is a reason for everything.

Yes, there is. But this is not particularly helpful to a person who is going through profound emotional pain. The intensity of initial grief and being reasonable do not sit well together. There is a reason for everything, but you can't realistically give a reason for why this happened. So, ditch this one. Instead, say how much the deceased person meant to you and that you are willing to help support the family by preparing a meal, or babysitting, or watching the house while they’re away.

Well, you know, when my father died….

Please avoid sharing your own story and experiences of loss. Focus on the person who is grieving and ask about how you can best support them during this time. Genuinely listen to their story and pick up on anything they say that will give you a clue regarding their needs.

How are you doing?

Refrain from asking this question if it’s coming out of your mouth as one of those default autopilot responses. A person experiencing intense grief might actually respond with “How in the world do you think I’m doing?!” Instead, look the person in the eye and say, “How are you doing today? I genuinely want to know if you’re willing to share.”

She’s in a better place.

She may actually be in a better place, but grief is about the profound pain of separation. The grieving person is experiencing being torn apart from their loved one, which is what “bereavement” means: to be torn apart. Instead, focus on the grieving person with a hug and let them know how much you love them.

Above all, be thoughtful, genuine, and intentional. Keep in touch with your grieving friend for days, weeks, and months. This will mean more to them than you will ever know.

About the author: Jamie Overholser, MA, is the Bereavement Coordinator and Spiritual Care Coordinator for Allied Services Hospice.

To learn more about Palliative Care at Allied Services call 570.341.4320 or click here.