Laura Clark Barefoot, Ph.D.
Barefoot Chaplain Intervention Services
May 22, 2016
As a certified Grief Recovery specialist I am often asked what someone should say or do when they are at a loss for words when attempting to comfort the survivor of a deceased person. The answer is similar for any type of loss, actually. Whether, confronted by someone who was impacted by a death, divorce, home foreclosure, loss of a pet, loss of a job, or any other major loss.
Our natural desire is to extend comfort, verbalize something that will ease their pain, or give advice to the griever like “she’s in a better place.”
Honestly, consider how often you, yourself, have said to a grieving loved one, or overheard someone else say, “I know how you feel.” One of the other standby statements is “Time heals all wounds.” If the previous two statements don’t do the trick, how about, “it will all work out for the better.”
None of the previous comments are helpful to say to someone who’s grieving. Not only do those comments not ease someone’s pain, they have the opposite effect, and contribute to the grievers desire to isolate from the human interaction and support they so desperately need.
The very best answer to such a tender question is, start by being completely honest! Telling the truth about yourself, there are two safe and comforting comments you can say when you are faced with someone who is grieving. One of the statements is, “I heard what happened and I don’t know what to say.” You’re probably wondering why this is a safe thing to say? It’s safe because, it’s the truth. Admitting the truth is both, honest and heartfelt. People appreciate authenticity. Additionally, you aren’t trying to give advice or fix anything. You let the griever know, their experience is unique and personal to them…they matter.
The second safe statement you can make, which lets the griever know you care, is “I don’t really know what you’re going through.” Realize, every person is unique, just as every situation is one of a kind. Each individual has a “story” and each person’s story matters. By making the aforementioned statement, they will believe they matter to you.
Helping someone know they are cared about, loved, and respected during a difficult time goes a long way. It can make the difference in contributing to their recovery, or delaying their pain.