When someone in your life circle passes away, everyone in that circle feels the heaviness of grief in one way or another. It’s hard to know what to say to relatives, friends, or even acquaintances as they experience deep grief and loss.
We feel the loss too, and want to say something profound, something helpful and comforting. Sometimes our words just come out wrong. We put our foot in our mouth and there’s no retracting it.
My sister and my mother passed away within months of each other. I experienced intense grief for a time. I heard things like, “She’s in a better place”; “God wanted another angel”; or “God took her home.” Some of these statements could make me resent God if He indeed “took” them.
How about these statements, “She was so nice, God wanted her with him. It was her time to go. She accomplished what she was here for.” Or “I know how you feel,” followed with a story about someone in their life that passed on. These statements are not helpful and can bring more sorrow.
If these things don’t help, what can we say? It comes down to two words. I’m sorry. Then stop talking. Sharing experiences that you’ve had in your own family doesn’t help. Am I supposed to feel compassion toward you when my heart is full of pain? Talking about God taking my loved one doesn’t help.
The person who this is told to may not have the same belief toward God as you. Will this be hurtful to them? If someone says to me, “Call me if you need anything,” I won’t be calling. It’s better for you to call me. Ask if anything is needed on any given day. Putting the call on them is a cop out. You pick up the phone, and you take the lead.
When saying the two words, “I’m sorry,” you can elaborate slightly. Here are a few examples:
“I’m so sorry”; “I’m sorry for the pain you are going through”; or “I’m sorry this happened.” Saying less is saying more. Are you comfortable sitting with someone without talking? Silence and just being there might be what they need.
Can you be with someone as they cry without getting them to stop? Crying is healthy and needed at a time like this. They may not have let their guard down with anyone else, but they can with you.
It might just be me, but even when people say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” it doesn’t sit right. It has become a phrase so overused that the meaning is lost on me. Try stopping at the first two words. See if you can do it.
My friend called to ask if she could stop over after my mom passed away. She brought me a sandwich and said, “I’m sorry,” as we hugged. Then she stopped talking and let me do the talking. She was the only person who truly helped me.
This girlfriend made a very big impression on me. She was sorry, and she listened. I’ve learned from her. This is what I will do when my mother-in-law, who is very close to dying as I write this, passes on. I’ll bring food and say the two words that hold meaning and love, “I’m sorry.”
Can you relate to this? Have people said phrases or words that elevated grief, or have they helped you feel better? If so, please share what they said. If you’d like, share the words that made you feel worse, so we can all learn from them.
Wonderful reminder to keep it simple. When my husband died suddenly – a few well-meaning friends told me that it was “better” that he went quickly.
Oh gosh, people mean well, but sometimes their comments hurt.
Applause! I lost my parents within five months of each other and my husband 18 months later. I couldn’t catch my breath.
Thank you for such a simple yet powerful article.
I am a recent widow. I lost my husband in May. Some people who knew me simply avoided looking at me or talking to me. Others didn’t mention my loss at all. But those who recognized my loss with, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or something similar helped me. Some people commented about how they had appreciated my husband’s attitude, or how he kept his yard. Those additional comments were also welcome.
One woman told me that she had to research what to say when someone passed. It can be difficult. Organizations and groups also need to have appropriate responses. Even Social Security sent a condolence letter. Yet the country club to which my husband belonged said nothing. In fact, when I called to cancel his membership, the only response I got was, “Well, I didn’t know him.” I never heard from the club again.
Thank you for writing this article. I imagine it will help people know what to say and also help those who have experienced a loss.
So very true! Less is best, and the simple, direct honesty of, “I’m sorry!” says it all. Love your article!
Good article.Gentle and clear. Pure and true gor a caregivers’ anticipatory grief.
I agree. When my Mother passed people asked why I didn’t call to notify them. Really?
Oh no, that’s just plain self centered and rude. I hope you have found it in your heart to forgive them and move on.