Only a few months ago, I received word that a dear friend’s child had been tragically killed in a car accident. Although I have worked with hundreds of bereaved people in my 38 years as a grief counselor, I felt worried as I went to be with my friend. “What will I say to this dear man about his loss?”
Then I remembered: “I don’t need to be anxious about the right thing to say. My purpose as his friend is to be present for whatever he might need.”
Supporting someone in their grief is a tall order if ever there was one. How, exactly, do you show true compassion for a grieving person? Here are a few ideas I mention in my new book, Getting Grief Right:
- Simply and sincerely say: “I’m very sorry.”
- No more words are necessary. Really.
- Show up at the house, visitation, or funeral; express simple words of sorrow; and then let the mourning person dictate what happens next.
- She may open her arms for a hug, or she may clearly want to keep people at a distance. He may want to talk about his loss or about baseball. Be with them wherever they are.
- Just simply be with that person and be compassionate.
- Being with a person in grief is a unique, one-way intimacy. Don’t try to fix it or make him or her feel better.
- Listen with your eyes and respond with nods that convey, “I get it.”
- Laugh with them when it’s time to laugh. Cry if tears come.
And remember, even after the last casserole dish is picked up, many who mourn feel forgotten.
- Bring a meal on the two-month anniversary of the death.
- Take your friend to coffee six months after the death and listen carefully to what they share about their story of loss.
- Speak the name often of the one who died.
- Donate to a relevant memorial at the year anniversary of the death or on the birthday of the one who died.
I hope these ideas will help you to create a compassionate community for those who you know are grieving.