What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving

One of the most awkward situations that people find themselves in is when they have to say something to someone who has just suffered a major loss, like what happened to me when my wife of 40 years died at the age of 63 from breast cancer.  Usually this is when you are attending a funeral.  You don’t want to say the wrong thing but what do you say?  Here are some suggestions of some supportive things to say and some things that you should not say.

 Below is an article written by Aurora Winter that addresses this situation very nicely. 

Heartbroken: Coaching Clients in Crisis
By Aurora Winter      June 2011

Heartbreak is inevitable. Knowing how to coach people who are devastated from a death, divorce, or another heartbreaking crisis is a valuable and much-needed coaching skill. Every coach needs at least some basic skills in this arena. If you’re looking to make a significant difference in the lives of others and grow your coaching business at the same time, consider focusing on the niche of grief coaching.

Over 50,000,000 people in the US are struggling with heartbreak and would benefit from coaching. According to a study reported in Time magazine, people typically suffer 5-8 years after a devastating emotional blow, such as a death of a spouse or a child, or the loss of a career. In my experience, heartbroken people benefit enormously from coaching. They can regain a sense of peace and well-being within a matter of months, saving them years of pain.

As the baby boomers age, more and more people will be confronted by the death of their parents or spouse. Unlike prior generations, baby boomers invest in themselves, and are turning to coaching as a way to go from pain to peace.

Businesses as well as individuals can benefit from investing in coaching when dealing with layoffs, downsizing, financial loss, grief, or another crisis. According to the Wall Street Journal, the workplace cost of heartbreak is $75 billion per year due to lost productivity, absenteeism, and accidents. By investing in coaching and supporting their employees through crisis, the company can get a good return on their investment.

Most people don’t know what to do to recover from grief. It’s not their fault. A coach can guide people through the steps required to heal from grief. Many people believe that time heals, but the truth is that time alone does not heal. The right actions heal.

When my husband died suddenly at the age of 33, leaving me widowed with a four-year-old son, I was devastated. At that time, I didn’t know what actions to take to recover. This life experience motivated me to study happiness and grief recovery. When I learned how to proactively release grief, I dedicated my life to helping others go From Heartbreak to Happiness® more quickly, and founded the Grief Coach Academy.

As a grief coach and a grief coach trainer, I commonly see profound transformations with nine specific coaching sessions. A great coach can make all the difference.

Most people, even great coaches, don’t know what to say to comfort someone who is grieving. If you say the wrong thing, you can actually make matters worse.

So that you will never be at a loss for words again, here are the top 10 best and worst things to say to someone who is devastated with grief:

 Do say:

• You’re not alone – I’m here.
• I can’t imagine how painful this must be for you?
• My heart goes out to you.
• What specifically can I do to support you?
• Grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss.

Don’t say:

• Don’t feel bad.
• Be grateful you had her so long.
• At least you have other children.
• You’re young. You can get another husband/wife/child.
• It just takes time.

If you are at a loss for words, there is nothing wrong with being authentic and simply stating, “I don’t know what to say.”

It is a relief to a heartbroken person to talk about their loss. To have an initial conversation with someone who is in emotional crisis, be sure to do the following three steps:

It is essential to acknowledge the situation.

After his father died, I would take our four-year-old son to play at his friend’s house. Our son literally would not cross the threshold until he first announced, “My Dad is dead.”

His little playmate said, “Oh!”. That was it. But it was enough for our son to feel acknowledged. He then felt comfortable entering the home and going to play Lego® with his friend.

We can all learn from the innocent directness of children. Don’t avoid discussing the elephant in the room.

People in crisis are accident-prone because so little of their attention is right here, right now. Their mind is preoccupied going over and over the past with all the “if onlys” and regrets. Their mind is anticipating the future with fear, uncertainty or even dread.

It’s as if their thoughts are all jumbled up like wet clothes spinning in the dryer. When you listen without fixing, it is as if you turn the heat on in the dryer. The person in crisis shares their worries and concerns one sentence at a time. They can hear themselves. They discover their own solutions. Listening without fixing is a huge gift that a coach can give.

After the person feels heard, acknowledged and validated, give hope and encouragement. Here are 3 ways to give hope and encouragement:

i) Remind the person of their inner strengths, and how they overcame adversity in the past.

ii) Reassure them that they’re not alone; they have a support team, and that you’re on it.

iii) Share success stories of how other people just like them overcame a similar adversity.

People can easily get stuck in grief unless they are guided through the process of proactively releasing it. Time alone does not heal. The wrong kind of talking about it can deepen despair. The right coaching can make all the difference.

After the initial conversation with the person in crisis, urge them to get support, and make a referral. Or, if you’re trained as a grief coach, invite them to continue coaching with you so that they will see results quickly. In my experience, grief responds beautifully to coaching, and I typically see profound results in just nine specific grief coaching sessions.

Often people who are heartbroken make the mistake of thinking that they will wait before getting help. But if they had a broken arm, they wouldn’t hesitate to immediately go and get help. Broken hearts should be treated the same way as a broken arm, immediately, and by a qualified professional.

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime.
Therefore, we are saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense

in any immediate context of history;
Therefore, we are saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous,

can be accomplished alone.
Therefore, we are saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint

of our friend or foe as from our own;
Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love,

which is forgiveness.”

Reinhold Niebuhr




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