We’re just so uncomfortable and helpless when dealing with death and most can’t find the right words. These 3 uplifting expressions below are enough to encourage us to face a memorial service or shiva with a little confidence. Just please don’t say “I’m sorry for your loss” (Sooo Law and Order) or time heals all wounds (because it doesn’t). Another thought – close-ended comments like this can create the feeling that the bereaved shouldn’t talk about the deceased because nobody else apparently wants to and that he needs to move on as quickly as possible.
Regardless of the circumstances, grief is never painless.
1. What did you love most about him/her?
Maybe not when standing in the receiving line at a funeral wake/visitation, asking a griever to share her thoughts, feelings and memories about the deceased can prove cathartic. Death ends a life, not a relationship. Those grappling with the forever-loss of someone close will likely welcome the opportunity to freely share their emotions and memories with a caring, sympathetic listener — even if doing so triggers a few tears.
2. I love you.
While comprising these 3 little words, few other statements in human history have possessed the ability to fundamentally impact the feelings and future course of a person, a couple or even entire nations.
The power of “I love you” rests primarily in everything not said but implicit in the phrase itself and how we perceive its meaning, such as “I value you above all others,” “Your happiness matters to me,” “You are not alone” and “I am here for you”.
Because people often feel isolated by grief, hearing “I love you” can provide a much needed, positive reminder that he should not feel alone during this difficult time. Someone cares about his happiness and stands ready to provide comfort and support in the days, weeks and months ahead.
3. Skip words entirely.
There are no perfect words so better to stop struggling to find them. No magic phrase or expression that could somehow erase the pain of loss and make the days, weeks and months ahead easy. And even if you do come up with the most profound and loving words, chances are the grieving person will not remember them. (Don’t take it personally!)
However, what he will certainly find comforting, however and might later remember, is the wordless, physical expression of your sympathy, caring and love. Hold his hand, give a warm hug, offer a tissue if needed; look him in the eyes to convey your wordless feelings; rest a hand on his arm or shoulder; or allow yourself to openly cry or experience the sadness and sorrow you feel.
Death is forever and poses a difficult, unwelcome reality that takes time to accept and integrate into their new norm. Trust that there will be plenty of time ahead to talk and, for now, just offer the precious gift of your silent understanding, support and physical presence to a griever.