I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou
With the experience of loss and grief now front and center worldwide, many have outgrown their pre-Covid ways of being, including how to respond to news of a death. As in almost every area, people are searching for more heartfelt connection and more meaningful ways to express compassion.
It’s important to note, when expressing sympathy people can feel your intent and the energy of your words. As humans we instinctively know that simple, honest and from the heart is always best. Although “I’m sorry for your loss” is a standard phrase, it may not feel personal or warm enough to express your true compassion.
Here are 10 options to say to the newly bereaved. Take a moment to determine what feels truly authentic to your heart, and know that it will be received in a completely different way.
1. I’m here for you.
2. Sending you so much love.
3. My heart hurts for you.
4. There are no words. (I don’t know what to say is also perfectly ok to say.)
5. I can only imagine how difficult this must be.
6. Holding you close.
7. I pray you feel all the love surrounding you.
8. I was so lucky to know him/her.
9. I was so saddened to hear this.
10. He/she will be so deeply missed.
Just like the words you say, the energy of the action you take reverberates to the bereaved and can have a tremendous impact on their healing.
Refrain from asking details of their loved one’s physical passing. Likewise, saying “They are in a better place,” or “This is God’s plan,” or “God has a plan,” does not resonate and often offends those who are in the midst of grief.
Instead, ask “Is it ok if I tell you how much he/she impacted me?” In telling your story, please remember to keep it positive and brief, as the attention span of those who have recently suffered a trauma or loss is limited. For those who can delicately weave in gentle humor about their loved one, this is often much appreciated and can help them feel connected.
Instead of saying “Please let me know if you need anything,” or dropping off a dinner they may not want, think about 2 or 3 small specific ways you can show support and offer them choices. For example, “I’m available any morning this week and would love to drop off your favorite (latte, breakfast sandwich, smoothie, etc.) OR “I can plan on picking up the kids for the next two weeks if that would be helpful.” Or you may say “I’m available in the evenings this week to go sit by the lake (or backyard, park or any special place) with you if you’re up for it.” Or perhaps ask, “Is there is any detail or errand I can take off your plate this week?” These questions may invite them to think specifically of how you may help them.
One of the most soothing things to many newly bereaved (especially in a post-pandemic world) can be touch. Using your discretion, this may be in the form of a sincere hug, a gentle touch on their hand, arm, back or leg.
One of the smallest, but most impactful gestures is to tell the grieving person you will be lighting a candle for them every morning. There is great comfort for the bereaved in knowing they are being thought of by you at that particular time. They will feel it.
And finally, consider making a note on your calendar to check in with the grieving person 2 or 3 months from the date of their loved one’s passing. This is the time, when the cards and phone calls dwindle, when they often most need support. Simply genuinely say, “I’m thinking about you today. How are you?”