When Amanda picked up the phone, nothing could prepare her for what she was about to hear. Her best friend’s little girl had drowned in the family pool.

There was a long pause. Grappling with her own shock and disbelief, Amanda realised there were no words. She couldn’t think of a single thing to say that would take the edge off the pain.

Throughout life, we are faced with grief and loss. Knowing how to respond when someone is going through a difficult time, can make a difference. Here are some suggestions as to what you can (and shouldn’t) say to someone who’s grieving.

  1. ‘I’m here for you’ – A time of loss can feel very lonely. Often, because people are afraid of saying the wrong thing, we can unintentionally avoid spending time with our friends who have experienced tragedy. Just a simple: ‘I’m here for you’ can be all that needs to be said. The silent message is: ‘You’re not alone’ and that can mean the world to someone who’s going through a difficult time.
  2. Don’t preach – Our natural tendency can be to try and ‘fix’ things with words of encouragement like ‘cheer up’ and ‘it’s for the best’ and ‘everything happens for a reason.’ These words have their place, but not necessarily right in the midst of grief. They can, in fact, do more harm than good in that moment.
  3. Let your actions speak for you – In the words of Ronan Keating ‘You say it best, when you say nothing at all.’ After losing a loved one, daily chores can be neglected while making funeral arrangements and coming to grips with the loss. You can lighten the physical and emotional load by delivering a hot meal, doing laundry, cleaning the house, or mowing the lawn. It shows that you care, without having to stumble over your words, trying to find the right ones.
  4. Keep it real – If you don’t know what to say, simply saying: ‘I don’t know what to say’ can be all that needs to be said. Your friend who’s experiencing loss is probably feeling the same way; struggling to articulate their own feelings and find ways to comfort themselves. Flowery words can miss the mark if they’re not straight from the heart.
  5. Just listen – Sometimes being a listening ear is all that’s required. Let your friend do the talking and simply respond to them. Don’t feel that you need to fill in awkward silences with words. Just knowing they’re being heard and understood can help with the healing process.

If you feel that your friend or loved one is really struggling to deal with their grief, please feel free to contact us and we can recommend a caring, professional counsellor who can help.