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 piece! So important. We are a grief illiterate society and very uncomfortable with sadness and emotional pain; we go for the quick fix. As a grief therapist, this is so valuable to get out there. Listening and silence, sitting with the person without bringing it back to oneself are key. Not easy to do for most people.
Harriet, Your words, “not easy to do for most people,” are spot on. When someone else loses a loved one, it reminds us of our own losses throughout the years. Those painful memories pop up from wherever we have stored them. But, we can do this, we CAN put thoughts of ourselves behind those of others and just stop talking about ourselves. I hope your comment here continue to inspire us all.