“Many people find that being with someone who has experienced a loss makes them uncomfortable,” said Janet Jaymin, director of bereavement services for Faith Hospice and a certified grief counselor. “It’s a reminder of our own mortality, and we don’t want to think about it.” According to Jaymin, you should keep in mind how you would like to be treated in similar circumstances. If for some reason, dealing with a friend or relative’s grief is too difficult for you, it’s best to be honest. “Just tell them you are having a hard time coping,” Jaymin said.
“Listening is the number one thing you can do for your friend. It’s so easy and so simple.”
What to do or say when someone is grieving
- Listen. Be willing to listen in silence. “Put away your cell phone,” said Jaymin, “and really be there.”
- Validate their experience. Phrases like “it must have been really hard,” show you understand their grief is real.
- Offer your support. Take the initiative and offer practical assistance—walking the dog, going to the grocery store, preparing a meal. “Your friend might fear being a bother, and not want to ask for help even though they need it,” said Jaymin. “Offering something specific makes it easier for them to accept the help.”
- Encourage your friend to talk about the person they lost. “Telling stories is healing,” said Jaymin. “And don’t be afraid to share your own memories of the deceased.”
- Let the bereaved person talk about how their loved one died—it ‘s a way to process a traumatic experience.
What not to do or say
- Don’t minimize their loss or compare it to yours. Don’t say “I know how you feel.” Every person grieves differently and has different feelings. Don’t say “they’re in a better place” or “it’s God’s plan.”
- Don’t say, “It’s time to get on with your life,” or “it’s been six months….” Phrases like this, while well-intentioned, shame the grieving person. “Everyone grieves differently,” said Jaymin, and the amount of time the process takes varies from person to person.
- Generally avoid “you should” or “you will” statements. Respect that your grieving friend is on a journey that is unique to them.
People often assume that grief does, or should, last a certain specified period of time. That is not the case, according to Jaymin. She recommends continuing to check in with the bereaved and not assuming that they no longer need support. “You always remember the people who recognized your loss,” Jaymin said. But if you weren’t able to express your condolences at the time, “it’s never too late to send a card, flowers or to just call and say I’m thinking of you.”
For more information, contact Faith Hospice at 616-235-5113.