Yesterday I learned that the wife of a friend of mine had passed away. I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now. After I watched the tribute he posted on Facebook for her, I sat there watching the blinking cursor in the comment box wondering what I could possibly say to him. I typed one thing then deleted it. I typed something else. I deleted that too. I finally just typed that I had no words to express which was the truth.
It’s hard to know what to say to someone that has lost a loved one. There is no words we can say that makes it any better for the person who is grieving. We try though. Somehow we all think we can say the words but words are so inadequate in a time like this but we feel like we HAVE to say something.
I’ll will just fess up and tell you that I fail miserably here. I, too, feel that I have to say words.
Sure, there’s that old “my thoughts and prayers are with you” thing we like to say. Although it is usually true, it’s a very worn-out phrase. And don’t EVER make the mistake I made once when I told a mother who had tragically lost her daughter that “I know how you feel”. Yeah, I know now. I just opened my mouth and words came out. It was a dumb thing to say. She gave me a pretty sharp lecture I won’t forget. Even if you have an IDEA of how someone feels, no two situations are exactly alike. So, never, ever say that. Trust me on this one.
I think the best thing, if possible, is just to be there. Give the person a hug. No words need to be said. If you can’t be there, just do the best you can with your words. Saying something is better than saying nothing.
I never like visitations either. It becomes too much like a reunion for folks who want to laugh and catch-up. Sorry, I’m not a fan. That’s why I don’t want one for me or my wife. I don’t want people showing up that haven’t been in my life and wanting to make it into some gathering. I won’t have it. Have the reunion while people are alive. Don’t wait until someone passes to get together. I had this ongoing thing with a relative once that we would see each other at the next funeral. We were being funny but it was true and I saw him two more times…all funerals.
And the things people say at a visitation….the classic one is when they look at the one who has passed and say “they look good” or “they are in a better place”. I’m sorry but I don’t want to hear that crap. No, they don’t look good and if they are in a better place then I want to be there with them. I know we mean well but words fail the situation.
Then you have the ones who want to quote the Bible. I’m not even going to get into this except to say: Save your sermons when I’m hurting. We don’t need a preacher at that time.
We don’t like to feel helpless. We all want to console our friends who are going through a loss. We want to DO or SAY something to make them feel better. We want to fix it but unfortunately this is something we can’t fix. Communicating isn’t always needed in words. There is no magic healing in words during this time in someone’s life. We have to realize this and if we use words, just speak from your heart. Sometimes just a simple “I am so sorry” may be all that is needed.
Here are some suggestions from etiquette experts on other things to say:
- “There are no words to tell you how sorry I am.”
- “I am so sad to hear about your loss. If you feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to call me anytime.”
- “(Deceased name) brought so much joy to everyone. They will be missed.”
- “My favorite memory of your (deceased name) was….”
- “If there is anything I can do for you please let me know.”
It’s good that we all want to comfort the person who is hurting. None of us likes to see others in pain. Words can help but only if we use them wisely and if we’re really at a loss on what to say, give them a card. In every situation, it is the thought that counts the most.