Many years ago a very good friend of mine lost her husband. He died suddenly. They were married a few short years. She was grief stricken. Inconsolable. I visited her whenever I could. Tried to cheer her up but I failed miserably. There was no cheering, I found. I would leave her home, sit in my car, and feel helpless. I couldn't make her feel better, I got that. But worse, I didn't know what to say. What does one say when someone has lost the love of their life? Or their mother. Their child.
The Christi Center of Austin is a support network available for those recovering after a loved one has died. They "offer hope after the death of a loved one by providing support networks, community education and therapeutic activities that are free, peer-based, and ongoing." On their website they provide numerous suggestions for those of us who want to offer comfort but don't know What to Say, including:
-Acknowledge the loss – “I heard that your _________ died.” It is ok to use the word “died”.
-Be genuine and honest – “I don’t know what to say, but I just want you to know that I care and I’m here for you.”
-The loved one’s name – “________” was a good person and a dear friend of mine. I will miss him/her.” Talk openly about the person who died.
-Ask how they feel – “Please tell me what you’re feeling right now – I have never been through something like this and I am here to listen whenever you are ready.” And then listen without judgment.
-Accept silence – “We don’t need to talk about this right now if you don’t want to – just know that I’m here when you need me.”
-Let them know they’re not alone – “We all need help at times like this – I’m just a phone call away, anytime.”
-Offer support – “Tell me what I can do for you.”
-Nothing – sit in silence, and just be with the person. Give them a hug or hold their hand.
AVOID saying things like “At least she is in a better place”, “There is a reason for everything”, “God needs him/her with him”, “I know how you feel”, “Be strong”, and “It has been awhile – you must get over this”. Minimizing, attempting to justify/explain, and putting a timeframe on the loss are not helpful at all.
Sandy Andrews, PhD is a Clinical Psychologist / Therapist who provides CBT in Austin, Texas