“She died not long ago.”
“We split up last week, we’re getting a divorce.”
“I just found out I have cancer.”
Most of our conversation is free-flowing. But when we encounter someone who is grieving or in the midst of some awful life event, we rarely know what to say next.
We feel like we need to say something that will fix it, some inspired magical line.
The truth is that in the event of a death or disaster, you can’t fix it with a comment. It’s our natural instinct to try, but the instinct is wrong. You aren’t going to reverse their relative’s death with your words or change the diagnosis. The tears won’t become instant smiles.
And once you drop this well-meaning intention, you’ll actually be able to do something useful.
Hard times & heart-breaks are a fact of life. They will come & go.
When these times come, the effected person needs space to grieve, time to process the change and a chance to work through their feelings.
You also need to accept that the situation will be uncomfortable. And that’s OK, life doesn’t always need to be comfortable.
Depending on how close you are to the person will indicate your level of involvement here on.
If it’s just a casual acquaintance then perhaps it is merely offering your sympathy. But if you are a relative or regular friend, it might be your place to keep up regular contact with them.
The challenge sometimes is to know what the right thing is to be talking about. Is it too casual to be discussing the movie you watched last night? Is it too heavy to be discussing funeral plans?
What are some things you can discuss when your friends are grieving?
When someone close to them has died, they will be feeling an irrevocable sense of loss. But ask them about special memories they have of the deceased. It may mean more tears but you will be stirring joy into the situation. It’s a reminder that there isn’t grief alone.
When someone is suffering through a divorce or break-up, they will be feeling rejection. And depending on the length of the relationship, they will feel like they have lost a part of themselves. This leads to confusion and struggles with identity. Talk is really important, so they can re-discover themselves and not be overcome with loneliness. Let them know they are cared for. They may want to talk about the break-up, so listen. Don’t outcast them, even if they are a downer. But in time, coax them out of their sadness to allow life to move forward.
When someone has just gotten fired or suffered financial loss or business failures, allow some time for anger but don’t let it perpetuate too long. Hope is important in this situation, so encourage them to cut their losses, see beyond their situation and bounce-back from it. Being the victim is unconstructive, as unfair as the situation may be.
When someone has received bad news, perhaps a life-changing medical diagnosis, they will be in shock. It will throw their whole life sharply into perspective, and they may have fascinating insights as a result. Listen to them, don’t be dismissive. And communicate to them how much they mean to you.
And of course, when someone you know is devastated then keep an eye out that their grief doesn’t elevate to the level of self-harm. Encourage them to get professional help if necessary.
As always, conversation is a powerful thing. Think of how important you can be for a friend when they are at their lowest.