There is no gentle way to say this: My husband and I lost three special friends within a two-week period. Their ages: 83, 72, and 65.

Two had health issues, but their deaths were nevertheless unexpected. Both died in front of their wives – wives who had stood by their sides for close to five decades. Caregiving was an everyday, 24/7 reality for these couples.

My other friend died suddenly after re-starting her life as a single woman. Her last public picture was snapped at a non-profit gala: she is dressed head-to-toe in hippie garb, with a dazzling smile and glowing expression.

The question is, how do you express your comfort in a situation of grief? Sometimes, well-intentioned people say the wrong thing. 

Research shows that people who are grieving are more likely to think “She is a moron,” instead of “She was uncomfortable with this situation,” after someone lobs an insensitive, invasive, or awkward comment.

The Wrong Things to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

Here are some really stupid things NOT to say to loved ones left behind:

  • It’s better this way.
  • Time heals all wounds.
  • I know what you’re feeling. I understand what you’re going through.
  • It’s part of God’s plan. She/he is in a better place.
  • What happened?
  • At least you’re not going through (and then cite your personal story…)
  • Stay strong.
  • Everything will be okay.
  • It was his/her time.
  • Don’t be sad when there’s so much to be grateful for.
  • God needed him/her more than you do.
  • People have been through worse.
  • We all have problems.
  • God never gives you more than you can handle.
  • Everyone dies eventually.
  • You can re-marry.

Consider the Mourner’s Feelings

When you have to show compassion to a grieving friend or loved one, be considerate of their feelings of loss and concern, particularly after the loss of a spouse. They are most likely thinking:

  • I feel like I lost my best friend.
  • I feel guilty that I didn’t do enough for him/her.
  • I am afraid. I am devastated.
  • I am worrying about lots of things.
  • Suddenly I feel very old.
  • I am thinking about my own death more frequently.
  • I’m relieved the suffering’s over, but guilty for feeling that way.

What Helps a Person in Grief?

You can start by listening to them express their feelings and fears. Texting is another option and stating you don’t expect a response is even better.

Be honest and express that you have no idea what they are going through or how it feels. After all, this isn’t about your story.

In many cases, the mourner has to deal with the many death-related tasks and decisions, sometimes on their own. They’d have to choose a casket, arrange for a burial plot, cancel future doctor appointments, write an obit, select burial attire, secure clergy to officiate, etc.

If there’s no one to help them out and you feel inclined to assist them, that would be much appreciated.

You can also offer to do specific tasks, such as walking their dog, picking up a prescription, or fetching a relative from the airport. This lifts the burden off the survivors to come up with a task for you to do.

Sending something special to them can offer hope that life isn’t over. My hand-knitted pouches with comforting, personalized messages tucked inside have worked well.

Even if none of the above appeals to you, showing up with food can definitely lift the mood. Or you can organize meal deliveries during those first wrenching weeks.

Offering Comfort Requires Mindfulness

When a friend or loved one loses their spouse, keep in mind that the event most likely dismantled the life the couple had built together. That is another loss to account for.

Grief never comes as a sole feeling. It is always accompanied by feelings of anger, despair, disbelief, shock, numbness, apathy, loss of appetite, and lack of energy. Sometimes it takes a while for a person to work through each of these feelings and get back to a routine that works for them.

Accepting the death of a loved one varies with each individual. For some, it may take years to get comfortable living again.

Whatever the case, however, keep in mind that doing something is always better than doing nothing.

How do you handle loss? How do you grieve? What can you do to comfort people who have suffered the loss of a loved one? Please share in the comments below.

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