Simple Ways to Witness the Grief of Others

We’ve all been there, right?

We stand in the visitation line at a funeral, and fret about what we’re going to say once we reach the bereaved. We worry we’ll say the wrong thing. An awkward thing. Or that a complete sentence won’t even come out of our mouth.

Here’s the thing… they may not remember anything we said, but they will remember that we were there. Sign the visitor book, stand in line and offer a short, heartfelt condolence to those who grieve. And remember…

Your presence matters more than your words.

Or a few weeks later, at the store, we see someone we know is in a season of grief, and we talk about everything except their lost loved one. After all, we don’t want to remind them of their loss, right? (That even looks crazy in print.) Of course we are not going to remind them of their loss — they are always thinking of their loved one. Want to know a secret? They may actually want to talk about their loss and hear someone mention their loved one’s name.

They are comforted by knowing WE have not forgotten.

The easy part? Less words are probably better. We don’t have to say much. A hug, a squeeze of the hands, or a loving, “I’m so sorry” go a long way in comforting those who grieve. Be sincere and encouraging. Avoid conjunctions like: if, and or but. Grief cannot be fixed. Once we add a “but” to our sentence, our well-meant blessing may feel more like a caution or even a judgment. Here’s an example:

“I am praying for you today. I’m so sorry that your mother is no longer with you, but I hope you find joy and peace again.”

Yes, those are perfectly fine sentences. All of it may be true. But all of it may not be helpful. Here are the sentences again…

“I am praying for you today. I’m so sorry that your mother is no longer with you.

A blessing, comforting and honoring to anyone who receives it. Two short sentences. Both ending in a period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Just a heartfelt condolence filled with empathy.

Here are a few other simple ways to bless those who grieve…

  • My heart is broken for you. I’m so sorry.
  • He was such an honorable man. She was an incredible mother.
  • I remember when [insert memory of loved one here].
  • I am praying for you.
  • God brought you to mind. I’m thinking of you today.
  • I’m over your way on Friday, may I do some laundry, run the sweeper, or dust for you?
  • I just left some groceries on your front porch.
  • I miss [insert name] too. She was always [insert memory here].
  • I know this week is [birthday, anniversary, etc]. I’m praying for you.
  • You are brave. I see your courage. I’m proud of you.
  • My kids would like to rake your leaves on Saturday.
  • I made our favorite soup and I have some for you. Would like to join us? I can also drop it off at your house.

What’s helpful? Offering specific things we’d like to do or ways we would like to help. This allows the bereaved the assurance that we are sincere in wanting to help. A general, “What can I do to help?” is often met with confusion and awkwardness. In the beginning, those who are grieving may not even know what they need.

Another way to continue to witness their grief? Send an encouraging text and end the message with, “No need to reply.” This will let the bereaved know we are thinking of them yet takes the pressure off of them to reply. THEN — don’t take offense when they do not reply. Wait a few days and send another text. Send another text a couple of weeks later. Then again. And again.

No need to reply.

It’s amazing how this simple tagline shows grace, kindness, patience and understanding.

Don’t be offended and keep showing up.

We often make walking alongside someone who grieves harder than it needs to be. It’s simple really.

Be brave.

Stand in that awkward, holy space and say the loss out loud.

Keep showing up.

Witness the grief.

9 thoughts on “Simple Ways to Witness the Grief of Others

  1. I found the hardest for me was being ignored. I once said something and was told. People probably afraid to make me cry. I would rather cry a river than feel no one cares about my grief.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. I understand. And yes, I agree, it’s easier and more comforting to talk about the loss than ignore it. Thank you for reaching out and being honest.

  2. One thing that amazed me was several months after the funeral, people told me they were praying for me. I don’t remember who they were, but I do remember those words. That meant so much.

    1. It’s always so meaningful and comforting when people say that to us, right? I received 2 sympathy cards months after I lost Jon. Those meant so much to me. It taught me it’s never too late to send that card.

  3. Thank you for this wisdom. Your blogs are very honest and articulate. These have been difficult years for you.

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