My parents are both gone, now. It’s been ten years since my dad died, and five since I had to say good-bye to Mom.
It’s weird. And hard.
It feels like if I ever got into any trouble, I don’t have a safe place to go. There is no home where I’m not the adult in charge. How did that happen?
I joined a parent loss support grief group on Facebook, and I’m awed by the sheer sorrow and helplessness people experience.
This is why it’s important not to trivialize what they’re going through by saying something that sounds insincere.
But I don’t blame people for not knowing what to say. Honestly, I still don’t know what to say.
Too many times I’ve automatically asked grieving friends how they’re doing when I really didn’t mean to. When I planned NOT to. We don’t have to ask because we know how they’re doing. Not good at all.
So, basically, I’m not so great with the talking part. I’m more of a hugger … which doesn’t work out so great for an online grief group.
But here’s why you should, at least, stop saying, “I’m sorry for your loss” right now.
- You sound like a robot that doesn’t actually care about the other person. Nobody talks like that. If someone’s car breaks down, you don’t say, “Sorry for the loss of your working vehicle.”
- It distances you from the other person. A canned saying leaves no room for a connection. It’s like an automatic fence going up. Their eyes glaze over and they automatically respond with a thank you.
- It’s something you say that doesn’t require anything from you. It doesn’t lead to any conversation. It’s a shut-down move. Basically, their grief is too big for you to deal with, so you say The Thing and your duty is done. You can move on.
On the other hand, letting them know they can talk to you if they want is a gift.
Here are some things you can do that are actually helpful.
Initial Kind Gestures
During the initial shock, drop by cookies or send food through delivery or the mail.
During the first awful blur, just make some initial gesture so they don’t feel alone.
Even better, shop remembrance gifts at Laurelbox. This company is geared towards supporting a grieving loved one with their sensitive, carefully chosen gift boxes.
After the Funeral
After the funeral, only if you’re close to the person, drop by and just start doing their laundry or find something else you can do.
While you work, let them talk if they want. And listen. Don’t offer advice or tell them it will get better or their loved one is in a better place. Listen and nod. Agree that it’s too hard to say goodbye.
Or just binge Netflix, if they’d rather. Sometimes people just want to take a break from the hurting. Follow their lead.
Don’t Impose a Time Limit
A common problem is that the grieving process can be all over the place. People show initial support, and then evaporate when the griever still needs help. Or they expect them to get over it after a few weeks, or at least stop talking about it.
Let them know that you’re still there for them. For as long as it takes. Show this by:
- Texting that you’re thinking of them
- Taking them out to lunch
- If you’re running to the store, asking them if you can pick up anything for them
- Telling them you care
- Letting them know they can call if they need a listening ear
Small gestures mean a lot, so hang in there! And good luck. You’re a good friend.