What do you say to a grieving person, particularly when he or she is someone you do not see often?
I found myself facing that question recently as I set off to visit an acquaintance who I spent time with a couple of times a year and whose husband had died since our last visit.
Do I express sympathy, which may evoke sadness and tears? Or do I wait to see if she brings it up?
During Arbor Hospice grief support groups, I have heard participants express anger when others don't acknowledge their loss or say the name of a loved one. I have also heard participants express frustration when someone expresses sympathy at a time when they are unprepared or unable to acknowledge the feelings that they experience.
It makes sense that some of us are confused about what to say to our grieving friends and acquaintances. So, I asked Arbor Hospice Grief Support Coordinator, Melissa Schultz to offer her perspective based on her work with countless grieving individuals and as someone who has herself lost loved ones.
Here's what Melissa told me:
"First and foremost, be sincere. Don't try to force sentiment that doesn't exist and speak from the heart. I think it's important to acknowledge the loss, despite the fact that it can be uncomfortable. Pretending that everything is normal leads to an incredibly awkward conversation, or lack thereof.
We often hear people say, 'I don't want to make them sad.' The fact is, they're going to feel how they do regardless of whether you bring it up. When you acknowledge the loss, it tells them that you truly care about how they're doing, and you're not just asking to be polite.
Keep in mind that context is key. If you start to discuss your friend's grief and she tears up, ask if she would like to continue talking. Let her know that you may not understand what she's going through, but that you're willing to listen.
Offering your presence to a grieving individual is one of the greatest gifts you can give."
What did I do? As my acquaintance and I greeted one another, I said, "You've been on my mind. How are you?" She took care of the rest.
This blog post was written by Dennis Sparks, Arbor Hospice volunteer. You may contact Dennis by commenting below or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.