Many Have Hard Time Confronting Death

What can you say when you have to call at the funeral home because your best friend’s mother died or you learned that your neighbor’s husband died or you found out that your co-worker’s son was killed in an accident or your nephew’s wife had a miscarriage?

Death is an area that impacts all of our lives, but many people find it very difficult to confront or know how to handle. What do you say when you go to the funeral home or how do you help your friend/family at such a time? It feels so awkward and you want to help, but find yourself at a loss for words. Unfortunately, some people will avoid it entirely because they simply don’t know what to do and that can be misinterpreted as not caring.

The most important thing to realize is that there are no magical words to make things better for someone who is grieving. Just your presence and a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” is an appreciated offer of support for that person. Chances are that the grieving won’t even recall most of the funeral process, so try to keep your visit brief, particularly if there are a lot of people in the room who want to speak with the family as well.

Say something kind about the deceased such as, “I have so many fond memories of…” or “He/she holds a special place in my heart …” Offer to be available if the grieving needs to talk. Ask if there is any help (such as child care, walking/feeding the dog, fixing a meal, picking up some groceries) while all the activity is going on. Keep in mind that you may not have to say anything — just a hug or handshake communicates a great deal.

Some remarks to definitely avoid are “He’s in a better place” or “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else.” Don’t say “I know how you feel.” Each person’s loss is a personal experience and never the same as someone else’s, so it’s not possible to know how someone else actually feels.

One of the worst losses anyone can experience is the death of a child. Never say “I know you’ll have another” or “at least you have your other children.” No one will ever replace that lost loved one.

Keep in touch in the weeks and months following the funeral or final gatherings. Give the individual a quick call and just say, “I’m thinking about you.” If the person wants to talk about their loved one, be a good listener. Many people want to talk about their loved one, but often find that other people avoid bringing up the name. If you receive a short “thank you” instead, let that be your cue that he or she is not at a place or time that they are comfortable with talking. Don’t pry and ask for information if it is not shared.

You want to be the best and most positive support you can be for your family member or friend who is coping with the death of a loved one, but it can be very uncomfortable as well. Don’t avoid going to the funeral home or contacting that person who is grieving because you don’t know what to do.

Prepare something to say ahead of time that you are comfortable with or talk with someone else who you feel is more experienced with the process. There are also good articles on the internet about “Funeral Etiquette” that you might find helpful.

Grief and loss is one of the many topics the counselors at Family Service of Chautauqua Region deal with on a regular basis. If you need more information about how to approach a grieving friend or relative, feel free to contact us at 488-1971 and a clinician will help you. Your support at a time like this is really important.