Communicating about Grief

Communicating Grief

Just a few short weeks ago I lost my beloved dad, known by all as “Gramps.” He was 90 and very ill. It is a relief to know he no longer suffers, but I am still overcome by grief.

Grief is a part of life. We all experience it at some time or another. Our family has had it’s share over the past several years and I’ve made some observations from my experiences. Even though it’s a part of life, people generally don’t know how to talk to someone who’s grieving.

Here are some tips I’ve learned on how to talk about grief and how to support those going through grief.

Everyone is different.

Approach as best you know how and have the courage to make the first move.

Don’t be afraid to engage. The worse thing you can do is avoid the situation. It’s awkward and adds stress to the person grieving by feeling their presence is making people uncomfortable. Don’t think they don’t notice your behavior. They do.

Humor is good, but be sure you know the person really well so as to not offend. When in doubt, don’t joke about the person or situation.

Don’t compare stories about how you know how they feel because you lost a loved one. This diminishes their loss and makes it about you. It’s not about you this time. Everyone’s journey is different and theirs is the focus now.

Offer words of comfort based on their faith.  For example, tell them you will pray for them or even better, pray for them right then and there.

Some simple things you can do or say:

Say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Then share a story or memory of that person. If you didn’t know the person, ask them for one – “what’s your favorite memory?” or “do you want to talk – I’d love to hear about him/her.” Or, “I’ve heard you talk about what a wonderful person he was.”

Refrain from saying “It was God’s will” or “he/she is better off.” That is unsettling and never comforting. It’s always okay to simply say, “I don’t know what to say.”

Take time to send a card. They mean more than you know and will likely be read more than once.

Tell them what you’d like to do for them. Most people like to ask the grieving for what they need and say things like “let me know how I can help”.  But they most likely won’t ask and may not even know what they need. Make a suggestion based on something you’d like to do and ask if that would be okay. Example – “I’d like to bring a dinner over, is tonight a good night?”  Or, “I’d like to help with the reception. Who should I connect with?”

When all else fails, simply listen.

Above all, someone who is grieving needs the opportunity to tell and retell their experiences of loss. Your caring and compassionate listening is the best communication skill you can use to help them heal.


Betty Lochner is the Owner of Cornerstone Coaching & Training. She specializes in improving interpersonal communication skills, building and leading teams, training supervisors, career coaching, solving human resources issues, and working with different communication styles and generations.

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