Supporting a friend or loved one who is bereaved comes with a lot of challenges with many people struggling to know what to say or how to act around someone who’s suffered a devastating loss.
Now a bereavement expert has revealed the best ways to navigate a conversation with someone who is grieving so that they feel supported and you don’t end up shutting down because you don’t know what to say, which will only make them feel worse.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.
She told FEMAIL: ‘Please don’t ignore someone who is grieving just because you don’t know what to say.
‘It’s OK to say that you don’t know what to say, but let them know that you are present, compassionate and willing to listen.
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who is grieving, but ignoring their loss will make them feel more alone, an expert has revealed (stock image)
‘Grievers don’t always know what they need and may struggle with their words but need they to know that they don’t stand alone.’
Lianna added that it’s helpful to remember that you often don’t need to say very much, but simply offer the other person the opportunity to talk.
‘Try to be there in body, mind and spirit with open an open heart,’ she said. ‘If you find your mind wandering, just follow their words in your head.
‘When someone who is grieving talks about how their grief makes them feel, they are not having a conversation, they are making statement. Thank them for sharing and let them know your ears will be on standby for them.’
Here Lianna reveals the seven things people often say to people who are grieving, but which can minimise their feelings or bring up other negative emotions such as guilt.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ
1. ‘I know how you feel’
You don’t. This is one of the worse things you can say and can make the griever put up a barrier. Every relationship we have is totally unique which means each grief experience we have is totally unique.
Even though we may share similar emotions to others, no two people will experience the same loss in quite the same way. Therefore, saying you know how they feel makes it about you instead of them.
It also minimises the importance of the griever’s feelings and can put them into conflict, especially if their feelings don’t match yours – which they won’t.
2. ‘Let me know if you need anything?’
They won’t. Instead try putting your words into action in a gentle way … ‘I’d like to cook a meal for you. Is Monday ok?’ or ‘I’m shopping on Saturday, what can I get for you?’. These practical offers are wonderful for a griever. Also offer specific times for practical help – dog walking, odd jobs etc. This can say so much more than words and can take the pressure off worrying about saying the wrong thing. The griever feels supported and you feel useful.
3. ‘Time is the greatest healer’
It isn’t. If we don’t acknowledge and work though our grief, all we do is learn to live with it in time. Which is why we all know people who a still grieving years after their loss. We never recover from loss but we can learn to live with it and go on to experience happiness again but there are steps we need to take and things we need to do.
4. ‘At least they aren’t suffering anymore’
When someone dies of a long-term illness, it might be true that their suffering is over, but the griever’s suffering has only just begun. It does not matter if you have had a very similar loss. You may remember how you felt after your loss, but that does not mean that you have a clue about what is going on inside this griever. Their feelings are based on their personal relationship, which is unique.
The griever feels that they shouldn’t be sad because the person isn’t suffering anymore. When grievers hear people say this, whilst technically correct, it minimises their sadness and because the suffering is over, listening to these words can make them feel guilty about their grief.
5. ‘You need to be strong’
Grievers don’t need to be anything, they just need to be honest about how they feel. By creating a space for them to share feelings without comment or comparison will naturally give the griever strength when they need it.
This statement only serves to say that what they are feeling isn’t important and they should hide their pain and show everyone how well they are doing. Here’s an example: When a man’s wife dies, people often suggest that he be strong for their children. Children learn by watching their parents, so the children learn that when they are sad they too should hide their feelings.
6. ‘They’re in a better place now’
This is based on our own beliefs and we cannot know what anyone feels about an afterlife. This diminishes the importance of the grievers feelings and again suggests they should feel instantly better became their loved one, ‘is in a better place’. Whilst intended to bring comfort, it can stir unwanted feelings in the griever.
7. ‘Don’t feel bad, be grateful for the time you had together’
Grievers cannot help but feel sad because grief is the normal, instinctive and natural reaction following any loss. A griever can be grateful for the time shared with their loved one who died and also feel sad at the same time too.
These emotions are not mutually exclusive. This statement suggests they can’t feel both at the same time. You are in effect saying if you feel sad, you are not grateful for the time they had together.