What to say when someone loses a loved one?

So often people ask me, “what do I say when someone I know has lost a loved one?”

While my recommendation may be counter-intuitive to some, the answer is you don’t have to say anything.

Being there for someone can mean that you just sit quietly and let them talk.  It may mean letting them cry on your shoulder or giving them a hug.  Sometimes the best thing to say is, “I have no idea what to say right now.”

The thing is that they likely don’t know what to do or say either.  Even if they have had other loss experiences, all loss is unique, therefore they have not been through whatever they are going through before.

Point being, you are both new to this situation or experience.  One of the best things that people offered me was a listening ear.  They would ask me, “how are you?” And then they would just listen.

While you may be afraid to ask what happened it can actually be therapeutic for someone to tell his or her story.  And guess what? You don’t have to come up with a brilliant response.  Just be compassionate.  Offer a hug and tell them that you are sorry for their loss.

What shouldn’t you do? You shouldn’t ignore the person who has experienced loss.  Going through any loss can feel extremely isolating.  Therefore, the best thing you can do is offer support and acknowledgement of the loss.

For example, “I heard about your Mom passing, and I just wanted to tell you that I am sorry for your loss.”  You can even add, “please know that I am here for you if you want to talk.” If you knew the person who passed, you can add a comment about your fondness of that person or a good story you remember.

So, to review, when someone you know loses a loved one:

  1. Acknowledge the loss and offer support.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are doing or what happened.  (These are other ways to acknowledge the loss)
  3. Remember that you don’t have to say anything “smart.”  Just offering a listening ear and a hug can be incredibly powerful.

If you or someone you know have experienced loss, please share this message.  Loss is part of life, but knowing how to handle it can still be confusing.

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