(A very personal list from my own experience of receiving condolences. YMMV.)
- “Everything happens for the best” / “It was meant to be” / similar.
How TF do you know? You have a crystal ball which sees all possible futures and found this was the best outcome? Fuck right off. Now.
- “[The loved one] is in a better place now.”
May work for religious folk who believe in an after-life. It’s not something you want to say to an atheist / agnostic.
No, it doesn’t matter what you believe, however sincerely; this is not about you.
- “Grieving is a process.”
You’re right. But it works differently with different people. I’ve seen grief that lasts a lifetime. (All grief does; it’s just that for some the ache stays an open wound.) If the bereavement is recent, it’s hard to rise above it and see the long term. Don’t try to ‘fix’ things.
- You don’t know what to say, so you say nothing.
Reach out anyway. The bereaved person isn’t expecting magic words from you. Chances are, they won’t really hear you if you do happen to have the eloquence. But they will remember you reached out.
That last one? Saying nothing because you can’t think of what to say? I’ve been guilty of it so often.
Things you can say and do.
- "I love you. I’m here for you."
(And mean it. Be there. Be present, in whatever way the circumstances allow.)
- Cook a meal and take it over or send it.
- Help with things like paperwork, giving away the departed one’s possessions.
- The bereaved often have a lot of people around the first few days after a loss. The company helps. Then people must return to the other things that life demands. This is a good time to check in, not necessarily to ask whether they need help, but just to listen to whatever they want to say. The silence they're unaccustomed to, the big hole in their life, the daily reminders of the loss, they’re hard. This is even more true if the dwelling unit was a small one, and one person is now alone.
Nothing you can do will bring the departed one back. No one expects you to.
But you can be a friend, an ear, a shoulder, a hug.
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