There is often a lot of talk about how to help the bereaved. Yet we rarely talk about what NOT to say to a grieving person. When I meet with other people who have experienced a loss, the conversation invariably turns to what offensive comment was said to them by a well meaning friend. There are many that come to mind, such as “They’re in a better place now“, or “You’ve been sad for a long time. Don’t you think it’s time to move on?” While these are indeed insensitive comments, they are not the most common. I’m sure if you put your mind to it, you can think of a number of insensitive comments you’ve heard over time. However, the most common blunder is not what people usually think of as being insensitive. In fact, the reason it’s the biggest mistake is because people have no idea of the impact of their words.
What is this most common phrase that is at the very top of the ‘what not to say to a grieving person’? … ‘Call me if you need anything’ .
I’m sure you’re thinking, how could this be inappropriate to say? Doesn’t this convey my desire to help? While this is very well-intentioned, in reality it can be an extra burden on the bereaved person, definitely not what one wants to do for a friend. A grieving individual, especially right after a loss, is exhausted, they can’t focus their thoughts. They can barely get out of bed, and sometimes not even that. The grieving person doesn’t have the energy to call you, decide when would be a good time to come over, decide what’s the best thing you can help with. That’s a lot of decisions that they’re just not in the position to make at the time of a loss. Furthermore, the grieving individual often has a very long list of tasks to accomplish, with funeral arrangements, settling the will and estate, notifications to banks,etc. they don’t have time or energy to make yet another phone call. Instead, it feels like you’ve added yet one more thing to their list.
So, If ‘call me if you need anything’ is what not to say to a grieving person, then what should you say instead? Well, it starts before you say anything at all. The absolute best help you can give a grieving individual is for you to call them. Say that you want to help by offering something tangible that you can do, and, here’s another hint, make it more than just bringing a meal. Don’t get me wrong, a meal is appreciated, but even more so is to offer to come over and do the laundry or shovel the sidewalk if it’s winter time.
If you’re really feeling adventurous, offer to clean the bathroom! When my husband passed away, someone called and asked if they could take my grocery list and go get my groceries for me. I must admit, I was a bit surprised by the offer, I’d never received anything other than meals, so I was a bit unsure. And yet, it turned out to be the help that stuck out most in my mind. Why? In part, because it was a time saver, I didn’t have to take my 3 kids out to the grocery store for a 2 hour trip if travel is included. But mostly, because I didn’t have to think of how someone could come and help me. I didn’t have to think, who should I call, who will come if I ask. The real work was done for me.
How do we truly help someone who is grieving? Lighten their load. If you can’t lighten it emotionally, lighten it through tangible tasks, not empty gestures.
Take Time to Mourn – Acknowledge Your Loss – Grieve Together