It can be really difficult to know what to say to someone who’s loved one has died. It can also be distressing for the bereaved person to have to deal with people who do not know how to respond to their grief.
Unhelpful reactions which are reported by bereaved people include:
- “Pull yourself together”
- “Isn’t it time you moved on by now?”
- “What is the matter?”
- “It has been X months and you should be over it by now”
- “Why are you hanging on to all that stuff?”
- “Why are you upsetting yourself?”
- “Never mind, you can always have another one” (child, partner, pet etc)
- “Why have you got all those photos everywhere?”
- I understand how you are feeling”
People sometimes cross the road in order to avoid having to face the grieving person. They are usually not doing this to be cruel. They may be fearful of causing more hurt by saying something and triggering painful emotions, or, simply they really don’t know what to say. This avoidance can feel like rejection to the bereaved and cause much upset.
The reason for avoidance can sometimes be that the person does not want to remind the bereaved of the death and grief associated with it. The person is already feeling all the pain of grief and they cannot be any more upset than they already feel. If they don’t want people to speak to them they will probably do the avoiding. The person may weep, but it may be comforting for them to have someone say a kind word to them, or at least a hello and acknowledgement of them and the death of their loved one, instead of being ignored which hurts and may cause feelings of loneliness and alienation.
So what do we say to someone who is bereaved?
Here are a few tips which may be helpful:
- “I am sorry for your loss”
- “I really don’t know what to say, I am sorry, is there anything I can do for you?”
- “I can’t imagine what you are going through”
- “How can I help?”
- “Would it help to talk?”
- “How are you feeling?”
- “How are you coping right now?”
We can all offer our support both physically and emotionally. We can be there to offer a shoulder to cry on and we can be helpful by providing meals or helping to do chores and shopping if they don’t feel up to it. We can all just ask if there is anything specific they need help with; ask if they want you to phone them or do they want some peace and alone time for a while.
Remember, we will never understand or know what someone else is going through, even if we have been through a similar situation. We won’t know what someone thinks or feels unless they tell us, we can only assume. So, just ask!
Next time you see a bereaved person, don’t cross the road, please say hello and acknowledge their loss.
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