5 Things a Grieving Person Actually Wants You To Say

Photo by Annie Spratt

Someone you know just lost someone they love. You feel shocked, sad, and scared for this person.

You think, ‘Man, I just don’t know what to say.’ This is totally normal.

Sitting in the shoes of a grieving person feels uncomfortable, weird and bizarre. Maybe it is easier to just send a card right?

There is no manual for how to help a grieving person, and as someone who lost a parent, I’ve had a few experiences with people who said really unhelpful, hurtful things when trying to relate.

Luckily, there have been more people who have been unsure of picking up the phone who called anyways, who have sent emails, and shared meals. So in antidote to my passionate post about what people don’t want to hear when grieving, I offer you these phrases to share when grief makes your tongue tied.

  1. “This really sucks.”

It’s that simple. Loss sucks. Really, really, really sucks. Nothing you can say will change that truth. By acknowledging the major ‘suckage’, you bring yourself into someone else’s space without having to change a thing.

2. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Normal activities like exercise and being outside feel overwhelming. By inviting someone out of the house and into fresh air, you can be a great force in helping grieving people get moving. Exercise, gentle exercise, is medicine and going with a friend makes the tasks that much more enjoyable.

3. “I remember when….”

Share a story about the person who passed. People get so uncomfortable about death. We worry that speaking of the person who is now gone will cause more pain. I have not found this to be true. I find it so soothing to hear how my dad touched your life: how he made you laugh, embarrassed you, took time out of his day to impact you. Keep sharing stories — I already know he is gone. You bringing him up makes me feel better, not worse.

4. “How are you feeling today?”

Grief slows everything down. Looking to the future is challenging and scary when your stability is stripped away. Grief also comes in waves. One minute you can be fine, laughing at an old tv show, and then a commercial comes on with that song you danced to at your wedding and all of the sudden, tears. Instead of asking how are things going instead ask how the person is feeling in the present. This reframing keeps us focused on what we need to accomplish in this 24 hours. It reminds us that if I feel like a pile of grief poop today, it may be different tomorrow.

5. “Here, I brought you a milkshake.”

I mean, everyone loves milkshakes. More importantly, it feels wonderful to know someone is thinking about you. The act of sharing food is sacred. Milk and chocolate are healing. Pick up take-out, bring by some beer, or cook a favorite meal. The gifts of food and quality time can be wonderful distractions and welcomed breaks. Grief doesn’t have to be the focus all of the time.

If you are worried about what to say to a grieving someone, you are probably coming from the right place. Hopefully this list helps you get moving in the right direction. Really though, bring them a milkshake.