What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

When a close friend or relative experiences the loss of a loved one by death, we are usually drawn into trying to help them through this time of shock, pain and grief whether we feel competent or not. It is part of being a friend. We usually feel ill-equipped for the challenge. We are afraid we will say something wrong, something to escalate the grief or find nothing at all to say. What do you say to someone who is grieving?

We may have been told that saying nothing is best. Or at least not giving advice, our own take on cause of death or becoming the general in charge. However, there is a need for understanding, calmness, and a word of comfort and hope.  

Walking through the valley of a grief with a friend is the most unselfish of gifts. It requires patience and grace.  

5 Ways to help someone who is dealing with the death of a loved one

Here are comments with a bit of advice offered that may be useful to someone involved in helping a friend or family member walk through the engulfing pain of grief. 

  1. Make yourself available. The mourner will probably not ask you. Gently be present.
  2. Be comfortable with not having all the answers – just be a good listener. You are not there to eradicate the grief – but to commiserate and be a sounding board.
  3. Be patient with the grief process.
  4. Voice the name of the loved one. There is often a fear that everyone will forget or diminish the deceased.
  5. Allow them to weep and express anger or blame. This will usually clear the path for a productive time of recovery to follow.

What not to do when someone has lost someone they love

  1. Pressuring the one in grief to talk. In a quiet and relaxed setting, gradually the talk will flow – and thus begin the release of tension. 
  2. Minimizing their experience – avoid comparing losses. The present loss is presently huge.
  3. Being preachy – do not tell them what to think, what to do, etc. They will formulate their plans as they process with the grief. Later you may be able to help them clarify those thoughts.
  4. Do not try to rush the recovery. Small increments each day allow for beneficial processing.
  5. Pretending to understand everything they feel.

Grieving is very personal. No two losses are identical.

  1. Avoid the clichés.  Every experience differs and the feelings of the griever are their own.

Talk about the loved one who has passed away

Long-term, do not avoid bringing the name of the deceased into the conversation, fearful of making them remember. Trust me here. They have not forgotten and will appreciate your acknowledging what was and affirming the now.  

It is a comfort to hear friends and family talk about the deceased and remember the good times. The gift of memory is such a blessing. 

Physical characteristics of Grief

The grieving person may experience:

  1. Tightness of the throat
  2. Shortness of breath and/or sighing. 
  3. An empty feeling in the abdomen
  4. Muscular weakness
  5. Tension or mental anguish
  6. Anxiety
  7. Lack of appetite. 
  8. Dry mouth
  9. Fatigue
  10. Insomnia

Emotional characteristics of Grief

Some of the emotional characteristics of grief may be:

  1. Events seem unreal
  2. Fearful of losing sanity
  3. Sleeplessness
  4. Irritability/Feelings of hostility
  5. Desire to talk about the loss constantly
  6. Little zest for life
  7. Disorganization
  8. Depression
  9. Frequent crying

If someone becomes stuck in their grief with guilt or depression, that person probably needs to see a professional counselor. 

Or even long-term, as with continuously breaking relations through the years, marked change of style of living or major disruptions of family relationships: all signs of serious problems that require professional care. 

Unresolved grief can become an ongoing problem even years later.

Remember that time loses parameter and meaning, so encourage the grieving to eat regularly, help motivate them get some exercise, to be well-groomed and to return to normal activities gradually but purposefully

How to be a good friend to the bereaved

At the time of death, often previously hidden and disturbing family situations appear. You may be privy of things that should not be repeated. Be a loving friend and not a bearer of personal stories. Let your friend feel safe, knowing that you will protect the entire family. 

All relationships are different. If the relationship was complicated, there will be other specific subjects to be addressed in the aftermath. Be a safe confidant.

All marriages are not loving. Often finances are shockingly in disarray or even absent. Mixed feelings must be dealt with – we must be patient while being willing to listen.

All deceased persons are not to be held in honor. Building up a false memory, deifying a scoundrel, or being unrealistic is not beneficial to a healthy recovery. 

What do you say to someone who is grieving? Below are some helps from the Bible.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  Romans 12:15. Your presence is the greatest gift. A quietly efficient yet caring friend to walk alongside through this dark period. Allow the survivors to make the plans and decisions, while being a safety valve and a compass to help avoid more problems.  Help them maneuver as safely as possible through the turbulence.  As a Christian, remember the incredible compassion and love God has for you and you will be able to have his heart for others. He will give you the patience and the words to say.  If you have experienced grief, you will be able to understand even better the pain that you see. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  Notice that this is not in our power. God comforts us so that we may be able to comfort others in His power.  You may be the one to call the pastor, the chaplain. And later, you may be the one that recommends professional care. In the meantime, a loving heart of compassion and the gift of your presence will fill a huge hole in the death experience. And be a wonderful blessing.  

Allow the grieving a voice and time to work through these things. Do help them to do this in the company of the right people. Protect your friend or family member during a time when control is out of his/her reach.

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If this video connected with you in some way, and you’d like to find out more about having a relationship with God and how His forgiveness and grace applies to you, a great place to start is praying the prayer below. The words themselves aren’t magic, but if you earnestly pray them and mean them, God will hear you! He’ll help you in ways you don’t understand, and we’ll help you find support and next steps.

The Prayer

Jesus, I don't know You, and I don't know what Your plan is for me. But thank you for coming to die in my place. I'm sorry for anything I've ever done wrong in my life. I don't understand how You could ever forgive me, but if You really would, I would like to accept your free gift of grace and complete forgiveness. Please come into my life and take control, and help me trust You. In Jesus' name I pray,

Amen.

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