By Allyson England Drake, M.Ed., CT

When someone is in pain or hurting, we often feel it’s our responsibility or job to take away their pain. We say things like “look on the bright side” or “you are so strong, you can handle this.”  When someone is grieving, the reactions are often similar.  Friends or family members say things like, “your wife wouldn’t want you to be sad”, “they are in a better place”, “I know how you feel”, “it’s time to move on”, “everything happens for a reason”, or “you need to be strong for your other children”. Instead of helping, oftentimes these platitudes do quite the opposite. 

When someone is hurting or grieving, they often want support, not “fixing.” Let’s be honest, you cannot “fix” grief. You cannot bring their loved one back. You cannot say something to make them miss their loved one less. You cannot just tell them to focus on other things and have their grief lessen. Instead, we need to look at other ways to care for those who are grieving that are more genuine and feel more supportive. You can help them by allowing them to feel heard, having their feelings validated (especially the painful ones!), and sometimes simply just sitting with them.  Quite often, this care doesn’t involve words, just showing up and listening.  Helping is being able to hear their various emotions and being able to sit with them, holding space for their pain.  Sometimes being silent shows we care even more than trying to find exactly the “right” thing to say. 

Try some of these supportive phrases next time you are with a friend or family member who is grieving:

“I am here. I will sit with you for as long as you need me.” 
“I hear you.”
“It’s okay to not feel (happy, excited, grateful, joyous, etc.) right now.”
“Your thoughts and feelings make sense.”
“How can I help you right now?”
“I’m not here to pass judgment.”
“I know you miss them.”
“You are important to me.”
“Take all the time you need to grieve.” or “There’s  no timeline for grief.”
“That seems like it would be really hard.”

When someone is grieving, it’s important to be compassionate and supportive. Platitudes or common expressions of sympathy sometimes hurt more than help. Sometimes, just being present and offering a listening ear can be the most comforting thing you can do.