friend who can be silent with us in a moment of confusion or despair,
who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can
tolerate not knowing... not healing... not curing... that is a friend
So your best friend just lost her teenage son in a car wreck... What a tragedy! You are just devastated and so saddened by the news.
But, Geez! What do you say to your friend? How can you possibly help or lessen her pain for her? Well, you can't, but there are things you can say or do to provide genuine support for a fellow human in need.
And there are some things you should never say to a bereaved person.
So what is the best way to express sympathy when a friend or loved one has suffered a tragic loss? What should you say to them? How best to lend support or offer to help?
Many bereaved people have reported that certain things said or done by those offering sympathy had a great impact on them... either positive or negative. We present in this section a guide to help you out with one of life's most difficult challenges... expressing sympathy.
Read on for some useful guidelines:
Let's face it. Bereavement is simply a sensitive, awkward subject. Yes, you do care, and yes, you want to help... but how? How can you really help this person out?
Well, the answer is that you can't. What you can do is lend an ear, provide support, and just let them know you care. You really cannot fix anything for them, so don't even try. What you can do is offer to help in some way... and make good on the offer. Oftentimes, you might hear a sympathetic friend say "Just call if you need anything". This lets them off the hook. They express blanket offers of help, then exit the scene as quickly as possible.
The only problem is that offer of help, even if sincere, leaves the burden on the bereaved. Not only are they too distraught to sort out who offered to help, they don't even know if it was a sincere offer. So they won't call, even if they really could use some practical help.
Instead, we propose the following approach if you want to help your friend out: instead of saying "call me if you need anything," say "I could help by (cutting the grass this Friday, or taking the kids for the weekend, or picking up people at the airport for you)".
Let them know of a particular (and
useful) task you would be willing to provide, and offer to do it. Then
follow up! Call a few days later and offer again, making sure to name a
specific date and time "if that's convenient for you". An example: "I
would like to bring over dinner on Wednesday if that's convenient".
The reality is that most any bereaved person could use a little help with household chores or funeral arrangements. In times of early bereavement, just keeping the household going can be overwhelming. Simple but important tasks just don't seem that important. If you really want to help the family out, this is how you can.
Although he may not express his thanks to you right now, your friend will always remember you were there to help them weather the storm.