The loss of a loved one is complex. While death is heartbreaking, the grieving process can also inspire feelings of anger, betrayal, or even joy as we celebrate the time we were able to spend with our remarkable loved ones during their lives.
Death is a natural part of life. As we grow, we learn how to rationalize the inevitability of death and help shape it to make sense. Still, understanding death doesn’t mean it’s easy to process loss. When a loved one or someone that we know passes, the hardest challenge of all comes our way. We have to learn how to continue experiencing life without them.
It can take a lifetime to understand grief, which is why we often default to messages of condolence and sorrow when our loved ones lose someone close to them. While sharing in our loved ones’ grief can help them heal, there’s also an opportunity to send messages of love, strength, and support during this difficult time.
When Someone We Love Has a Death in Their Lives
We will all experience the loss of someone that we know and love. When the time comes, we have to face the challenge and do our best to move through the feelings that arise. The grief, loss, and healing are different with each new loss, and we often have to experience it as it comes.
However, another similar experience brought on by death will affect us, and that is the process of comforting someone who has experienced a death. It’s natural to feel helpless or stuck when the people we care about are hurting. There are many different ways we can offer our deepest sympathies and share our support, but it can be difficult to know where to start.
What Do You Do?
There isn’t one answer to this incredibly complex question. However, there are general guidelines that can be followed to help you learn how to show your love and appreciation for your friend or loved one. A simple condolence message is a great place to start, but we may want to show our support in many different avenues. Each day of the grieving process is different, and our loved ones needs can change from day to day.
As always, we believe that the decisions you make, as long as they are made from a place of genuine love, can have a great amount of impact. But how can you really help comfort someone who is grieving? What can you say instead of just, “I’m sorry for your loss?” Is there anything else you should say, or should you even say anything at all?
Well, let’s take a look at a couple of core principles to help you love and show that love to a friend who is experiencing grief.
Experience Is Not the Answer
The first principle we want to talk about is how grief is unique for everyone. Yes, there are definable and even recognizable patterns of grief, but that doesn’t mean it is a cookie-cutter experience. Grief isn’t one size fits all, as it interacts deeply with a hurting heart. It’s a valid and vital part of the process of experiencing a death; it affects everyone a little differently.
That being said, there is a time and a place for everything in the grief process. Eventually, it will be appropriate to share your experiences, but it’s important to wait for the right time. Your words of encouragement and heartfelt condolences may have a deep impact, but only once your loved one is ready for them.
For many who experience grief, there may be a time where they cannot handle hearing about your deceased loved ones. It’s not that they don’t care or that your story isn’t powerful. In fact, there are cathartic therapy groups that are composed of individuals who have shared grief experiences—once the moment is right.
At the beginning, it’s important to give your loved one space to process their individual feelings, as every loss is different. The distinction between invalidating their unique experiences and empathizing with your shared understanding comes down to time.
If you have a friend who is experiencing a time of grief, like the loss of a pet, death of their mom, or loss of another loved one, don’t burden them with your own past grief even if it is well-intentioned. Grieving can feel like a selfish and guilty experience for some, so it may be hard for them to express sadness. Honor their unique feelings by allowing them to take center stage.
Once they’re ready, a little encouragement and love will go a long way.
Silence Is a Powerful Tool
Depending on the situation, your close friend or family member may simply not have the courage to continue grieving alone. However, they still may not be ready to vocalize their thoughts and feelings. At this point, your very presence can be a comfort. This doesn’t require any speaking, but it still can act like a powerful source of encouragement.
Every person is different and will have a unique path through their grief, but if you are sensing that your loved one or friend is not at a place to take verbal encouragement, simply be there for them and offer them your deepest condolences.
If you are close, this can look like doing practical work to help them out at their home with chores, or even just sitting with them through the evening. If you feel like it would be appropriate and well-received, it may look like giving a hug instead of a verbal exchange of sadness.
Asking Rather Than Stating
If you are in a situation where you feel like it isn’t appropriate to simply say “sorry for your loss” or offer sincere sympathies, asking your friend or a close relative what could be done to help could go a long way.
Processing death is emotionally draining, but it’s also physically taxing. Arranging a viewing, funeral service and reception during a sad time all take time and effort. For the grieving family or other close parties, this kind of commitment can feel like a burden in a time of loss.
Finding ways to practically be of help to your friend or loved one can do wonders in times of sorrow. If you have the kind of relationship that allows for you to be this forward, ask them what they need help with during their grieving process.
This can be tricky because a grieving person can feel guilty for having so much attention. Not only is the process of losing a loved one traumatic and tragic, but it can also prove to be exhausting. Don’t be surprised if your question is kindly turned away.
If there is a way that you can pleasantly impact the workload, such as doing the dishes if the reception for the funeral is held at a private home, then take initiative. This kind of selfless service may go unthanked due to the massive amount of attention the funeral itself is demanding of the grieving, but it will not go unnoticed or unappreciated.
Affirm Their Strength and Your Love
In dark moments, affirmation and encouragement can be needed. Rather than just passing on a sentiment or text message that is understood without needing to be verbalized, affirm your loved one who is experiencing the loss. They may be hurting however they need to hear the hope and courage they may be lacking.
Try to stay away from encouragement that focuses on things that are unknowable. What we mean by that is stay away from phrases like “You’re almost through this” or, “It will get better soon.” The truth is, these phrases can add weight to your loved one who is grieving simply because you both don’t know what this path of grief will look like.
For the parent who loses a child, there is a chance that for the rest of their life the hurt will not lessen. They may find ways to have a life around it, but it may become a part of them. So don’t state affirmation of their journey, but affirm in them what they have in you.
Use phrases like “I love you”, or “I know this is hard and I’m here for you”. Offer your heartfelt sympathies, warm thoughts, and kind words, and offer to share lovely memories about the deceased’s beautiful soul if it seems like the time is right.
In conclusion, being open and willing to be led in the moment and acting from a place of love will ensure that you make the best impact you possibly can. The loss of a great friend, beloved wife, or other loved one can be difficult, and choosing the right words for a heartfelt sympathy message can go a long way.