Humans are empathetic beings. We feel sadness for a grieving friend. When friend is experiencing sadness and grief due to the death of someone they love dearly, we often want to say something that helps soothe their pain. At the very least, we don't want to say anything to make our friend's pain worse.
The problem is that we aren't sure which words will soothe and which will hurt. What is the right thing to say? So we often become hesitant to say anything.
I have experienced this feeling plenty of times myself, but now I have also experienced it from the side of the grieving friend hearing others trying to figure out what to say. I've experienced some really awkward responses from people, as well as some amazing responses.
Maybe my experience can give you a little more confidence in what to say to a friend who is grieving the death of a loved one. Maybe a few ideas and tips will help you …
What to Say to a Grieving Friend
I'm so sorry.
I'm praying for you.
I hate that this happened.
If I could change any of this, I would.
Is there a color that I can wear on the day of the service that would honor him? Or maybe something that he loved that I can do in his honor?
You don't have to overthink it. Just let your friend know that she is loved, cared for, and not forgotten.
One thing that I found especially wonderful after my husband died was hearing stories. So many friends told me things that Vince said or did that touched or changed their lives. I heard stories of small things that he said to encourage a friend that made a profound impact on him or her. I also heard stories of memorable moments they spent together. And funny stories– often including times that my husband lost something, broke something, or did something really silly. It helped me so very much to hear about times that friends spent with my husband that they will always cherish. I knew that he was loved and missed by our friends, and not just our family. If you can share a moment that you enjoyed with your friend's loved one, it can soothe their ache a little bit. (And Vince's celebration of life service was full of friends sharing their stories!)
I do have a couple pet peeves here.
There is one phrase that is super overused these days. "I'm sorry for your loss." It's not a bad thing to say, but I hear it so often that it no longer feels genuine. If no one ever says that phrase to me again, I wouldn't be a bit sad. I may be alone in this sentiment, but the point remains that your friend just wants to hear that you care. Maybe just think ahead and ask God to lead you to a phrase that conveys your empathy and then say that.
Don't go to your grieving friend for comfort over the loss of their loved one. It doesn't matter if the person who died was also your friend, if he was closer to your friend than to you, then you would do better to take your grief to someone else. It's okay to let her know that you are also grieving him and that he will be missed, but your comfort needs to come from someone else. Your job is to help your grieving friend. For instance, when my husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, many people came to us with their sadness, and we comforted them. Really, we wouldn't have wanted to do anything else, but we are also not the norm. The hard part was when this same thing happened after Vince's death. Friends came to me to sob on my shoulder. He was my husband. My earth was shattered. I shouldn't have had to care for grieving friends. Don't ask your friend to care for you while she is grieving.
One last thing… but it's the most important thing…
Don't let your fear of saying or doing the wrong thing keep you silent.
If you say something wrong, you can always apologize and honestly say that you're not sure of the right thing to say, but you care and want to help. You can let her know that you may get it wrong, but to please tell you because you want to help her and do better.
Loving and caring– even if you mess up a little– is always better than doing nothing at all.
This post is part of a series called On Grief.
During the month of October 2017, I will be exploring topics related to grief. My hope is that I can answer some of the questions you are too afraid to ask a new widow or a grieving friend, give you a window into the first two years of grieving a spouse, and answer some practical questions that will help you know how to help others in your circle of friends and family.