Many of us may feel unsure, awkward or helpless when trying to find the right words to say to a bereaved person and invariably this is because we are frightened of appearing intrusive or saying the wrong thing to them.
Whilst your words will not change the situation for that person, they could provide much needed comfort and support. Simply by saying 'I'm not sure what to say to you but I just want to say how sorry I am to hear…..has died' not only are you showing you care but you are also acknowledging their loss and showing that you are more open to talk about how that person really feels.
It's okay if you don't know what to say
You might not know exactly what to say or do but that's okay. By offering to sit and listen patiently to the bereaved person, you are being there for them and that is invaluable support. People who are grieving may need to tell their story over and over again and this is because by repeating their story they are processing exactly what has happened and starting to accept the reality of the death. Other times the person may sit in silence for long periods of time, reflecting on what has happened. If you are unsure about whether they want to talk – ask them. A simple 'do you feel like talking?' may be all that is needed to find this out. If they do they will see your question as an invitation to do so, if they don't they will feel reassured by your presence if you sit in silence with them.
Ensuring your support is consistent really helps the person. Very often in the early days after the death, the bereaved person can be surrounded by a lot of people but as the weeks go by this support may gradually fade away, leaving the person to grieve alone. By offering the open invitation 'Let me know if there is anything I can do for you' you may encourage the person to ask you for help when they feel they need it. However, it is worth remembering that the person may not always have the energy or motivation to ask when they need help and so it would be a good for you to take the initiative and check this out with them.
Avoid saying these things
Avoid comments like… 'time is a great healer' 'you'll get over it' 'It's a blessing' 'they're no longer suffering' because however well meant they may be, the bereaved person will not find them helpful. They will never 'get over' the death of their loved one. Whilst in time they will hopefully learn to manage this new life they have been plunged into and the intensity of the pain they are feeling may lessen, the sadness they feel over the death may never completely go away.