What to say after a death.

It is always hard to know what to say – or not to say – to people who are facing difficulties, particularly when someone’s world has been fundamentally altered by the loss of a loved one. So often people just say nothing, which is really almost worse than saying the wrong thing. We are tempted to hide away and opt out, rather than engage in the hard conversation.

I’ve delved deeper into this and got stuck on a chat on social media called “Refuge in grief”. I wept through this narrative of people opening up to one another. Someone posed the question to all members on the group and asked: “What would you like to hear?”

One of the most common responses was “I want people to say their name (the name of the person they lost). Don’t pretend that they didn’t die. Don’t think by mentioning his/her name I will suddenly remember they died. Trust me, I am aware of this every moment. If you mention him, it means he was here and made a difference.”

They existed. You existed with them. That person died, but your relationship with that person did not. Acknowledging the departed person means so much to the one mourning. Sharing stories, asking questions, validating that existence is part of healing.

Remember the anniversaries, remember the dates, remember the stories and share them.

Tell them you miss her/him.

Everyone agreed that they get lots of messages saying, “Let me know what you need, let me know what I can do.” They will not. They will not let you know. They already feel overwhelmed and can’t muster the thought and energy to respond to your question. Before your message has been sent, please know you are off the hook.

Here are some ideas of texts you could send instead:

“I do not have the right words. I do not know how you feel, but please know that I care deeply.”

“Hey, I am coming one day next week to help you with changing your linen and cleaning out your fridge, and then I am going to do your shopping. Please choose which day suits you better, Monday or Wednesday.”

This is direct and there is a plan. Your presence is required although your “talking and analysing” is not.

Some other things that may work are:

“I have no words, but know I am here and I care and will keep messaging you. You do not have to reply. I’m coming to sort out your pool tomorrow. I know John used to do this, and not sure if you know how that kreepy krauly works 😊 Maybe we can have a drink when I’ve got that pool sorted.”

“Can I come sit with you? If you feel like talking we can, otherwise I’ll just bring you a those chocolates that Suzie used to love and we can miss her together.”

“We all need help in times like these, I don’t have the best words, but can I give you a hug?”

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“Can you believe Sally has been gone for five years. Sometimes when I smell her perfume though, it is as if she is right here. I miss her too”

People sometimes think there is a limit to how long one should grieve. There is not, and one can be happy and carry on with life even though you miss the person acutely. Acknowledge that that person is gone but that the love is not.

There are no word that can ease people’s pain after loss, but our presence, our physical nearness, our love, our care, our willingness to sit with them in their pain, can help bring about healing and hope.

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