My emotions were raw. Just a few days before, my wife and I watched the eyes of the ultrasound technician grow big and her mannerisms grow cold. We knew then that something was wrong with our first child. The technician hurried out of the room and in came the doctor. The baby had miscarried, he said. Our first child, Jesse, was dead.
I was the associate pastor of a fairly large church and as I went to church that Sunday, my emotions were raw. For a lot of reasons. Fortunately, there were many warm and caring hugs and sentiments offered that day. Yet there is only one comment that I can remember word for word. A phrase I have not forgotten in the 20 years since Jesse died. “Don’t be so sad. You can have another kid and you’ll forget this ever happened.” Seriously! That is what you thought would bring me comfort?
It was the wrong thing to say. And though I doubt that many of us would say anything remotely insensitive as that to someone who is grieving, most of us do fear saying the wrong thing. The problem with this is sometimes this means we say nothing. We think, “If I don’t know what to say, I won’t say anything at all.” Which works well if you have nothing “nice” to say, but the truth is that the grieving need to hear from us.
They want to hear from us. As a pastor and a hospice worker, I have heard too many times from the grieving that they feel isolated and alone because nobody seems to want to talk to them. Once the funeral is over and the sympathy cards quit coming in and the initial wave of phone calls end, the silence is deafening.
So in an effort to help you who want to say something but don’t know what to say, let me offer these simple suggestions:
- Instead of using the tired old phrase “I am sorry for your loss.” (whose meaning has been lost in its overuse), consider saying, “My heart hurts for you.”
- Instead of saying, “You’re in my prayers.”, consider saying “My hope is that God will give you the strength to make it through this difficult time.”
- Instead of saying “I know just how you feel”, consider saying “I can’t imagine what you must be feeling right now, but I’d like to.”
- Instead of saying, “Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.”, consider saying, “I will be calling you in a few days to ask you what I can do for you. Can you think of anything now?”
- Instead of saying, “I know exactly what you mean.”, consider saying, “What I hear you saying is _______. Is that right?”
- Instead of saying, “Time heals all wounds.”, consider saying, “It takes time for wounds to heal.”
- Instead of saying, “If I were you, I would (insert advice)” consider saying, “What do you think is best for you?”
- Instead of saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle” consider saying, “God will never give you more than He can handle.”
- Instead of saying anything, consider listening to what they are saying and ask them more questions about it (for more on this, Google “Active Listening”.)
- Instead of just saying something to break the silence, consider not saying anything at all. Being there in silence is often a comfort.
Whatever you say, try to find a comfort level within yourself for the person to experience pain and anguish and to mourn through tears. Grief is messy and you may want to run from it, but the gift you can give to the grieving is your willingness to walk through the muck of grief with them as the storm rages around them.
Who knows, you may say something wrong. But your willingness to apologize and hang in there with the grieving will speak volumes in the end.
If you have a loved one in need of Hospice services or you want to learn more about our bereavement support program, visit the Halcyon Hospice website, connect with us on Facebook, or call to speak with one of our representatives at 855-328-1700. We’re here to help.