People ask us this question time and again: What should I say to someone who's grieving? They ask, hoping there is an easy answer or checklist... but I have bad news: Those things don't exist.
We recently asked WYG readers about the best and worst things anyone has said to them in their grief, hoping for some specific examples that we might then be able to offer as guidance to all those seeking answers. And though they provided some amazing insight, things still remain, well, complicated. In fact, we found that some of the EXACT SAME PHRASES were listed on both the best and the worst lists. Why is this so tricky!?
Well, we've said it before and we'll probably say it a million more times: What feels right and helpful for one person may be all wrong for another. Also, timing can make all the difference—so you may just have the bad luck of picking the wrong moment. Or, you might be the right person to say something to one friend or family member, but the wrong person to say it to another. Eleanor made a super graphic about this over in the post of the 64 Worst Things Ever Said to a Griever, so make sure you check that out if you missed it.
In case that isn't enough of a disclaimer... Before we dive into the list of "best things," you can watch the video below for some of our simple, tried and true tips. These won't necessarily guarantee that you say the "right" thing, but they are a good place to start.
As for those "best things" that we're shared with us, well, you'll see that sometimes the items on this list aren't especially specific. These suggestions are often general statements or ways of being.
We think this is worth noting because people often fixate on having the "right" words to make someone feel better, but often the best thing you can do has nothing to do with what you say, but how you maintain a supportive presence. So, without further ado...
1. "There are no words."
2. "I will travel to you and stay with you several days."
3. "You can talk to me about your mum whenever you want—in 5, 10, 30 years."
4. "Your grief-reactions are normal/appropriate."
5. "You aren't going crazy."
6. "Tell me more about your mother,"
7. Someone gave me a very sincere compliment on how I've handled raising my kids as a single mother a few years after my husband died; meant the world to me to hear it. It's a lonely journey, and I needed that boost.
8. "I’m just really sorry you’ve had to go through this.” She kept her gaze into my eyes as I sobbed... It was so powerful just being “witnessed.”
9. "Your Dad was a wonderful man."
10. "Learn to live in acceptance of the loss, not in spite of the loss."
11. "She’s just made a change of address."
13. "It’s okay to have bad days because it reminds you how much you love them, and the good days remind you they’re right there with you."
14. "Just talk about your son whenever you feel like."
15. "You don’t have to talk. I will just sit beside you."
16. My 81-year-old Father drove quite a distance to just sit with me and, as he sat listening to me completely fall apart, he reached over and put his arm around me and quietly said, "Please know this is only temporary. You will get to finish raising him one day." Then he said, "I will get there before you and I will carry your messages to him."
17. “We’ve asked your colleagues and they have donated enough paid time off for you to take the time you need."
18. "We were just talking about him last night."
19. "We remember him and speak of him often."
20. "When you feel that she’s with you, know that she really is."
21. "She is never far away."
22. "Let me know if I can help."
23. "I’m sorry for your loss."
24. When someone tells you they are there for you, brings you flowers or comfort food, or your best friend comes over after you’ve told her not to (because you didn’t want to be a bother) because she knows you that well... Those are the types of things that make a difference.
25. "I was really mad at God when I found out."
26. "It f#&king sucks."
27. "We won’t forget him."
28. "He was such a special kid."
29. "I don’t know what to say but I can listen."
30. "He would be proud of you."
31. "I am praying for you and will always be."
32. "I love you."
33. "Thank you for giving us the most beautiful, generous, loving person we’ve ever known."
34. "We loved her like she was one of the family."
35."You’ve been a good dad to them."
36. When my Mom passed, a good friend of mine looked me in the eye and, with such love and concern, said “I am worried about you. I think you should consider grief therapy.” I did so because of her genuine concern and courage to say that to me at the time.
37. "One day you will be talking about Jessica and a smile will come to your face first before a tear."
38. The best thing was from a chaplain who gave me permission to be mad as hell and instead of asking 'Why me?' asking 'Why not me?'
39. My mom made me socks and a hat for my baby gone-too-soon in pregnancy. She said, “Every baby deserves to be celebrated, no matter how long they are with us.”
40. "A part of your loved one lives in you and all those he loved."
42. I received a card from a former college classmate of my husband. In the card, she wrote about how proud my husband had been of me and how happy I had made him. She wrote that, every time their paths crossed over the years, he always spoke so highly of me. She was in awe of how proud he was to have me as his wife.
44. "I can see by these pictures how much you loved each other. She must have known every day she was loved."
45. "There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Your life has been changed forever."
46. "You're allowed to feel and be exactly as you are because this is your experience and no one else's."
47. "I wouldn’t be alive today if your dad hadn’t helped me get sober by giving me a reason to be sober."
48. The best thing is when someone says, “I remember...” and then goes on to share a memory of the person you’ve lost.
49. "I cannot possibly understand how you feel. But I’m here".
50. When I told a friend my heart is broken she said, “I will lend you mine 'til yours has mended.”
51. "It’s okay not to be okay."
52. "Look for signs. He will show you he is with you."
53. "He/she is with you always, and is proud of you for the way you live your life."
54. I love when someone hears a song that reminds them of him and they reach out to tell me.
55. "Come rest a minute. Let's talk about and remember all those sweet memories. Your dad was a great man and father."
56. "We'll get through this together."
57. "Now you’ve got someone up there watching out for you."
58. "It's okay to hurt. Don't hold back your tears."
59. "I have no words, this just sucks."
60. "What the F*^k? How can this be?"
61. "He was so loved and my life is better because he was in it."
62. "You are a good mother and his death with never change that."
63. "You are not moving on you are moving forward."
64. The woman cleaning out my father's absolutely vile condo, when I admitted how embarrassing I found the state of his living space and apologized to her, said: “I don’t judge. Everyone has different priorities. He was clearly a wonderful father who was deeply loved.”
What would you add to the list of best things to say to someone grieving? Leave a comment with the best thing someone said to you in your grief or a general tip you have about how to support someone grieving.
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: