First up in the “What to Say When. . . “ series is on a topic I know that confounds many well-intentioned people. When someone we know loses a loved one, it can be really difficult to know what to say or how to express sincere condolence without sounding trite.
Nancy Guthrie, author of What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps and What Really Hurts lost two children at early ages due to a rare genetic disorder. In the wake of her grief after having lost her daughter Hope, the first thing she wrote for a publication was an article called “The Worst Thing to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving . . . Nothing.”
In her book (which is an extremely practical guide to navigating how to help a grieving friend), Nancy expounds on some of the counter-productive or hurtful things that could be said to a friend in the midst of grief. But don’t let the possibility of that scare you off. Be thoughtful, not silent. Saying nothing to a friend or acquaintance who’s aching can be even more hurtful.
Here are a few tips of things that you can do and say:
Sending a note right after a friend loses someone is important, but also mark your calendar. Remember important dates so that you can send a card to arrive on or before a difficult anniversary, too. He or she won’t have forgotten the following year, so send a note then as well. The days and weeks leading up to or on holidays can be also good opportunities to send a quick note as the anticipation of experiencing those days can be difficult even if the death occurred years before.
It can be unhelpful to try and encourage a friend by saying that it’s going to be okay, that life will eventually go back to being normal again. More constructive may be acknowledging that you know that their life will never be the same, but that you are committed to walking alongside them in their new reality.
If you knew the deceased person, share a personal memory you have of them: a story or a personality trait that you admired about them. Grieving people love to hear their loved ones names mentioned. Don’t shy away from speaking or writing about them for fear that it will upset them further.
Including Scripture or words from a hymn with your own thoughts can be a sweet way of bringing a friend back to the truth and giving them hope, like in this example from Guthrie’s book:
The sheer thought of the heaviness of your sorrow makes us wonder how it’s even possible for you to carry such weight. Then we remember that Jesus has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4).
You may even choose to write out a quote or verse on a separate pretty notecard for your friend to post on a mirror or on a desk. If you’ve been around here for awhile, you know I’m a huge advocate for putting things in front of the eyes so that the heart can be reminded.
Again, Nancy’s book is a great resource for gaining even more insight into how to love and walk with a friend who’s experienced loss. Writing a physical note to a friend during this time can be a tangible way of caring for them when they are reeling, lost, and hurting. The impact of such a small gesture can be great.
Need some personal stationery or a box of cards for note-writing occasions?