Death happens because it is a part of life. We are unaware of when it is our time, until it is. We lose those we love and it is painful. The entire process, from start to finish is unlike anything you can describe to people until they have traveled the road themselves.
We often ask, “What can we do to help?”
Please, stop saying “I am sorry for your loss.”
I for one, have been guilty of saying this exact sentence on more than one occasion. You hear the awful news and what else do you say? We become awkward and it is generally what falls from our lips. The phrase itself has become so overused, that is it simply heard as obligatory. We mean no harm.
Let’s take a closer look at that one small sentence.
“Sorry” puts the one grieving in a guilty space. Sorry is the word we hear from someone when they have wronged us, but in the context of grief, it becomes we’ve wronged you with an emotional burden that you are politely trying to deflect.
“For” becomes the direct line connecting the grieving person’s dead to your discomfort.
“Your” isolates the grieving person, effectively saying that even though you may feel compassion for them, the true loss is for them to deal with, not yours.
“Loss” , as if the deceased could have hung on, and maintained life for their loved one.
Loss….someone is gone and the ones grieving cannot get them back. All physical presence of that person is no more.
A mountain of hurt in the span of one sentence….Sorry For Your Loss.
Clearly, this is never your intent and you have no idea because the bereaved person fights back the tears and musters up a thank you. We have the ability to be more aware and do better. We use these words simply because they have always been used. We can do better.
What can we use instead?
You Have My Heart And Support.
This phrase takes away the isolation death creates in the mind of someone dealing with loss. Including the word heart offers a softer edge than sorry which lends to a more sorrowful tone. Having ones heart and support is a promise of solidarity no matter how hard grief tries to tear down one’s sense of normalcy. This one sentence can be hugely important in keeping one grounded during a time of personal upheaval.
I’m Here For You
I truly believe that this is one of the most powerful things you can say to someone who is grieving. The level of loneliness that is felt throughout the stages of grief is insurmountable, and knowing they have someone they can count in is imperative in their healing. When we offer these words, it does not have to be a grand gesture. The bereaved may not yet be ready to reciprocate, but in that moment they need it, they will remember who they can lean on.
Let Me Help
In moments of grief, consoling words will always be difficult. We have to assess the situation, the bereaved and ourselves.
We want to merge our hearts and minds with another’s to alleviate their pain, but words in the moment, not even those of poets, never quite feel adequate to the task.
But there are times when the moment calls for the pure and simple silence of the unspoken entreaty: let me help; allow me to grieve with you; sit down, rest, be.
This can be communicated by a tight hug; by offering a box of tissues when needed without being asked; by helping the bereaved out of their seat or even literally offering your shoulder for their head to lay; there are a million ways to show you are there for someone.
Words bridge a gap. “Deepest condolences on your loss,” “sympathy for your loss,” “sorry for your loss” are mere shadows of what’s in your heart.
No matter what you decide to say to someone, make sure that it is helpful
Uplift them, be with them, let them know that you are not just another specter in a pageant of pain, one that begins to disappear to them even before all the funereal social obligations have been fulfilled.
The bereaved will have enough ghosts to contend with; compassion must lead you to be substantial.
It’s never easy finding the “right” words. If it were easy, it’d be meaningless.
It’s said we’re at our most human when we’re sorrowful or joyful; everything in between gets muddled. Words of compassion should express our humanity.
These suggestions may help or may not. They’re not meant to become new rubber stamps in lieu of the ragged, cracked one many of us use now, they’re solely guides.
Life is best when we let humanity, empathy, and a willingness to lift the pains of others from their shoulders guide us, even when only for a moment.
A lot can be done and said in the span of a breath.
Speak love, speak comfort and speak them well.
Much Love ❤