Im sorry for your loss
Im sorry for your loss. is probably the single most common thing said at a funeral, and one that will get repeated often. While Im sorry for your loss really is a nice, safe thing to say, it shouldnt be the only words of condolence you give to the bereaved. The bereaved family really may want to hear more, such as how you knew our loved ones or perhaps how they affected your life in a positive way. Youll be able to sense if they want to talk or not.
If you struggle with finding the appropriate words to say to a widow or a bereaved family, these three steps will make the process of expressing condolences a little easier for you:
1. Expressing words of comfort start with a word of sympathy, such as Im sorry for your loss, or I was so sorry to learn that your mother ( or husband, child, spouse) died.
2. After expressing sympathy, you should then introduce yourself and how you knew the decedent, such as, My name is Bill and I worked with your Dad or My name is Sue and your Mom and I belonged to the same gym. This introduction will help the family make the connection between you and the deceased.
One important point worth remembering is that unless you are a long-standing friend or close relative, dont assume that the family remembers who you are. Extreme grief tends to short circuit our memories, and puts us in the uncomfortable position of trying to rake our brains for a name that just wont come. Reintroducing yourself will spare the bereaved from embarrassment.
3. Once the introduction has been made, share a short, inspirational or humorous story about the deceased. Theres a part of us that doesnt want people to forget our loved ones, and sharing a brief yet uplifting story provides enormous comfort. Choose your story carefully though, since this is neither the time nor the place for us to hear how stupid, inept, or cheap our loved ones were, no matter how humorously the story is told.
Almost everyone worries about what to say to people who are grieving, but knowing how to listen is much more important. Oftentimes, people avoid talking about the death or mentioning the deceased person so as not to hurt them. However, the bereaved need to feel that their loss is acknowledged, it’s not too terrible to talk about, and their loved one won’t be forgotten.
While you should never try to force someone to open up, it’s important to let the bereaved know they have permission to talk about the loss. Talk candidly about the person who died and don’t steer away from the subject if the deceased’s name comes up. When it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions – without being nosy – that invite the grieving person to openly express his or her feelings. Try simply asking, “Do you feel like talking?”
- Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Let the grieving person know that it’s okay to cry in front of you, to get angry, or to break down. Don’t try to reason with them over how they should or shouldn’t feel. The bereaved should feel free to express their feelings, without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism.
- Be willing to sit in silence. Don’t press if the grieving person doesn’t feel like talking. You can offer comfort and support with your silent presence. If you can’t think of something to say, just offer eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
- Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died. People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.
- Offer comfort and reassurance without minimizing the loss. Tell the bereaved that what they’re feeling is okay. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to theirs.
Comments to avoid when comforting the bereaved
- I know how you feel. One can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
- Its part of Gods plan. This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, What plan? Nobody told me about any plan.
- Look at what you have to be thankful for. They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
- Hes in a better place now. The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
- This is behind you now; its time to get on with your life. Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means forgetting their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
- Statements that begin with You should or You will. These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: Have you thought about. . . or You might. . .