Less is More….What not to say to someone when their loved one has died

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Ellen McBrayer under News
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Less is More….What not to say to someone when their loved one has died

So many people ask, “What do I say to someone when they have had a death?” They truly worry and agonize over “the perfect words” to comfort someone. But why do we need words to make an impossible situation better or to help a broken heart? Words alone can’t heal a broken heart.

Trying to create the “perfect greeting card” with words could actually have the opposite effect. I will start with a true to life example. One hour before my father’s funeral, a lady approached me and said, “I’m so sorry!” This is the moment at which she should have stopped. However, she continued, “I mean, your dad will never see you graduate from college, he will never walk you down the aisle at your wedding, and he will never hold your first child.” Yes, all her statements were painfully true! But the day of his funeral wasn’t the time to paint me a timeline of all the milestones in my life that he wouldn’t see. After years of re-living that moment, I finally realized that she was simply expressing what her fears would be if it had happened to her. However, the way it felt, with a broken heart, is that she was kicking me while I was down. I know she was very sincere in her heartbreak for me and was truly trying to help.

I believe the vast majority of people say things in love and don’t even realize that statements could actually be hurtful. Finding the right words can be very challenging. Below are some examples of what not to say, followed by another way to express it:

1) “I know exactly how you feel.” Instead try, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” Even if your stories are “the same”, the brokeness and grief that a person is feeling is different from anyone else.
2) “This Happened for a reason.” Instead try, “I’m sorry this happened.”
3) “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, try taking them dinner, calling, or texting them “thinking of you”. Rather lead with actions and just do things, instead of asking them to contact you.
4) “How are you doing?” Instead try, “I know you are hurting, but physically how are you feeling?”
5) “I’m sorry I couldn’t come to the service” or “I wish I had been there for you more, but I had so much going on with _______” Instead try to just be there, loving them, and allow them to tell their story in that moment. Grief continues for months and sometimes years after a death. Remember your friend/family will need love and support for a long while after the service.
7) “God must have needed a new angel.” Instead try, “They will truly be missed.”

When someone is struggling to just hold it together emotionally, words alone are not the answer to making someone feel better. Why is saying nothing so hard? Challenge yourself to be ok with silence and understand that sometimes the best thing to say is…nothing at all. Allow them to “tell their story” and understand that sometimes the most healing occurs when you allow them to express their loss, in their own words, and in their own time. Allow them the opportunity to have a safe place in which they can grieve with any emotions they are feeling. When you know someone has a broken heart, try to remember the 4 H’s:
H: Hush, H: Hang Around, H: Hear, and H: Hug

Even if God himself could explain the reason for our loss, and why someone we love died, and even if we understood the reason “Why?” clearly, the hurt would remain the same.

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