Grieving people often feel alone in a society that is uncomfortable with suffering, invisible in a world where no one sees how their world has changed. You can help by simply and genuinely acknowledging the loss and the pain, and by listening without judgment or haste to make it better. As the proverb says, “A joy shared is doubled; a grief shared is halved.”
Communicate acceptance and sympathy: "Yes, you are in pain."
It’s OK to feel this way. You don’t have to be strong right now.
Tears are part of loving someone.
This can be so hard. You don’t have to hold it in.
It can really hit hard sometimes.
It’s different for each person.
- Non-verbal: Breathe deeply. Be relaxed, non-anxious.
Communicate that you are listening: "Yes, I hear you."
I’m here to listen.
It sounds like [she, he] was very special to you.
It sounds like you are really missing [her, him] at the moment.
- Non-verbal: Lean toward the person. It is OK to be silent with them, and OK to tear up.
Communicate availability/reliability: "Yes, I am here."
I’m right here. Take your time.
I’ve been thinking about you.
I’m in no rush — we can continue whenever you feel ready.
- Nonverbal: Look directly and kindly at them.
Offer options: "Yes, you have some control."
Would you like to tell me more? Would it help to talk about it?
Would you like to tell me more about [her, him]?
Would it be helpful to sit outside for a bit?
Some people find it helpful to talk with a grief counselor: would you like some resources?
- Non-verbal: Move tissues within reach, without distracting or interrupting.
LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Often more effective than the “right” words, listening communicates acceptance and genuine caring to a person in grief. Trust that listening is a gift: it allows a grieving person to “metabolize” the pain when it occurs instead of leaving it “undigested.”
by Laura B., grief counselor