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. I failed miserably. There was no cheering. 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 we care about 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 who provides CBT in Austin, Texas