Navigating Grief Did Not Know What to Say

What to Say… When You Don’t Know What To Say

Learning by Experience

When my mother passed away, I received a card from a friend of mine that touched me so deeply I can still remember it 15 years later.  The card was humorous and the note he wrote was the perfect balance of empathy, humor and reality.  You see Chris had lost his father about a month before I had lost my mom and he knew intimately what I was going through.  This card was the cornerstone to developing a resource website I Did Not Know What To Say.   I wanted to encourage people to be thoughtful and supportive of their friends and family when they are going through a great loss.  The topic of death is difficult and many people “freeze” when the topic comes up.  Our website is dedicated to helping people find the words when you don’t know what to say.

Put your heart into it

There are many ways to express your deep concern and support for a friend or family member when they have lost a loved one.  I have found that when you put your heart into what you write it makes all the difference.  One of the cards I received simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I have been thinking about you all week, and I will keep you in my prayers.”  It was from a friend’s mother that I did not know very well, but I was so touched that she would take the time to send a card.  I could feel the love and sincerity in the note and it made a lasting impression on me.

Know your audience

People have many belief systems when it comes to death, grief and the burial process.  Religion, culture, family experiences, personality, the age of the person and their gender can all impact how they handle the grieving process.  It is important to take these factors into consideration when offering your support.  As an example, an older person that is religious may appreciate a more conservative card with an appropriate Bible reference.  A younger person may enjoy a little humor to bring joy into what can be a very heavy emotional experience.  It is important to remain supportive and not diminish the person’s feelings or beliefs.  This is not a time to “preach” to someone.  It is a time to reach out and open your heart.

Offer your support

The most fundamental thing you can offer someone in grief is your support.   My friend Michele sent me this note after my mom passed away, “We will be there to do those things you are not able to” and she really was.  She helped make phone calls to my family the night my mom passed away, she was there at the memorial service, and was there through all the ups and downs as I recovered from this great loss.

I have found that most people appreciate knowing you care about them and that you are there to support them.  A simple note of encouragement like this one can make all the difference, “Please know that I’m willing to help you out in anyway you might need me to during this difficult time. I’d love to bring your family dinner or take you out for coffee if you ever need to talk.”

My old roommate used to send me cards on my mom’s birthday as a reminder that she was thinking of me.  My aunt sends her sister-in-law a card on the anniversary of her son’s death just to let her know that she is not alone.   The grieving process can take time and knowing your friends and family are there throughout the journey can help you heal.

I am deeply appreciative of all the love and encouragement I have received from my friends and family through the many loses in my life.   My greatest hope is that everyone receives that kind of deep support when they are going through a loss.

4 replies
  1. Storybooks For Healing
    Storybooks For Healing says:

    Thanks Minda. Of course, we agree with your blog post, too: “Bring memories and other tokens. Photographs, special remembrances, stories, newspaper clippings…anything you have that might stir up memories is a good tool for helping the bereaved. Oftentimes, this will open the door for discussions about the deceased, and for many people, simply talking and remembering is the best way to cope.” These items make a perfect additions to the bereaved’s Storybook For Healing, too.

  2. Gary Roe
    Gary Roe says:

    Thanks for this post, Lori. In my work as a hospice chaplain, I run into this all the time. Some people are so uncomfortable around expressions of grief. They’re so terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing that they hold back and do nothing. Hopefully, with a little education and encouragement, that will change. A little goes a long, long way, doesn’t it? I especially appreciated the “Put your heart into it” section. Thanks again.


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