10 Best Things To Say To Someone In Grief

The other day I published a post entitled “10 Worst Things To Say To Someone In Grief” on www.shawnhennessy.com, which has already been viewed hundreds of times, so I thought it only appropriate to publish the flip-side, so I have entitled this post “10 Best Things To Say To Someone In Grief.”

There is so much negativity in the world.  If you don’t believe me, just turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or listen to any random conversation going on at your local grocery store.  There just seems to be so much going wrong in the world.  Whether there is a Tropical Storm bearing down on the Atlantic Coast or Minors stuck in a shaft somewhere or oil leaking into an American body of water, it just all seems so gloomy.  In fact, it seems like all the good news gets buried and regarded as fluff stories that are relegated to rookie reporters and given off as “public interest” pieces.  I was talking to a friend who is in the journalism business and I wanted to test my theory.  When I asked him why this seems to be the case, he made an interesting statement; he said “Bad news sells better.”  Hmmmm – bad news sells better?  That is interesting, in a sad sort of way, but seemingly true.  Think of many of the conversations you have, or at least the ones you remember.  We more vividly remember the negative conversations and circumstances in your life than you do the positive and I’m sure it isn’t because the negative outweigh or outnumber the positive occurrences in our lives.  Well, we know that to be true if we put any weight on modern psychology which suggests it may take as many as 10 positive comments to counteract a negative.  Now most of us get a significant amount of positive input downloaded into us from sources we may not even notice – family, friends, literature, nature, a spiritual discipline, regular exercise, etc.  The problem for most of us lies in my personal belief that positive experiences are like post it notes, but negative experiences are like super glue.  Positives fall off far too easily but negatives hold on for dear life.  It takes work to be positive – long, arduous, purposeful effort.  But it is effort that is essential to your emotional survival.  I think everything in life requires positive input.  As weird as it may sound, my dog behaves better and makes less messes around our house when she is spoken to kindly and has more positive attention directed toward her.  It’s even been shown that talking to plants makes them grow better.  If it works for pets and plants, wouldn’t it make sense that it would work for people?  Now, if people require extensive amounts of positive input to make it through everyday life, imagine how much more it must be needed in a time of grief and loss.  People who are grieving do not need people to mope with them.  They do not need you to get down with them, they need to be lifted up and comforted.  People who are in grief generally need to be protected from negativity, sometimes even their own, so I have put together this list of the “10 Best Things To Say To Someone In Grief” and like my post on the Worst Things I have included the traits of these comments and what may drive them.  Here are my 10 Best:

1. I am so sorry for your loss.

2. I wish I had the right words, just know I care.

3. I don’t know how you feel, but I am here if I can help in anyway.

4. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

5. My favorite memory of your loved one is…

6. I am always just a phone call away.

7. We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.

8. I am usually up late if you ever need anything.

9. Give a hug instead of saying something.

10. Don’t say anything, just be with the person.

Here are some traits I have seen about these comments and what may drive them.

1. They are supportive, but do not try to fix anything.

2. They are about feelings.

3. They are non-active and don’t tell anyone what to do.

4. They admit they can’t make it better.

5. They don’t ask for the griever to change their feelings.

6. They recognize loss.

7. They are not limited by time.

I think the most monumental moment during my struggle to recover from the loss of our daughter was when my brother Kevin dropped everything and flew to Seattle to be with me.  He was not the only one to do that.  My parents and Sonny’s parents both flew in while we were still in the hospital with her and they sat with us and prayed with us and cried with us time and time again, but, running the risk of sounding entitled, you expect your parents to do that.  But here was my big brother who had a wife, kids of his own, a job and bills and responsibilities, but got on the first flight out of Detroit and came to sit with me.  If you knew my brother you would understand better.  I love all my brothers and they are all successful, but Kevin has always been a hero to me.  He is the best husband and dad I know.  He is a gentle giant and as soft and tender with his wife and daughters as anyone you will ever meet.  But in the real world he is tough!  He works hard, is a strong leader, and doesn’t take anything from anyone.  I grew up wanting to play football because he was a stud football player, a real throwback who seemed like he would finish a game with a broken arm rather than come out.  So here was this gruff, tough, strong, Carhartt wearing, man’s man who got on a plane, came straight to where I was and didn’t say a word.  He just sat and listened and cried and held his little brother.  He listened to me question my God and cuss and watched me hit stuff and thrown things and only spoke when he needed to.  Looking back, I would never have made it through my grief process without my big brother Kevin, and it had nothing to do with anything he said.  In fact, it had everything to do with what he didn’t say.  So, today you may know someone who is going through the grief process and negativity may be overwhelming them. They may feel like they have no hope or that life will never get better or that the sun will never shine again, and the last thing they need you to do is fix them.  They need you to shield them from the negativity and funnel the positive into their ears and minds and hearts.  Can you be the personification of the positive for someone today?  Can you listen more and speak less?  I bet you can.  I bet you can be to someone today what my big brother Kevin was to me.  You can change a life today – I believe in you. 


About theshawnhennessy

Speaker, author & blogger.
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