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Monday, August 20, 2007
What to Say to a Grieving Friend?
A friend from college recently lost her grandfather. He had been sick for some time, but from what I understand they had been expecting him to recover.

What do you say to someone who is grieving the loss of a family member? Is "I'm sorry" enough?


posted by Lydia at 11:34 AM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 8/20/2007 12:30:00 PM, Blogger lisa

    Sometimes as Christians we believe that we have to come up with something profound or incredibly helpful or godly to say. But sometimes that just makes for a lot of unnecessary words. I believe that telling someone we are so sad for their loss, or just "I'm sorry" is often the best thing. We often don't need answers so much as someone who acknowledges our pain and gives us space and permission to grieve.

    When our house burned many years ago, my Maasai friends would come sit with me. They just said "I'm sorry" and sat with me visiting quitely. In Nairobi we observed a similar thing when an Asian family lost a child. Their friends stopped by the house to just sit with them in their grief. It was a quiet coming alongside.

    I appreciated these expressions of support that didn't come with a lot of words. But that's just me. Others might want words.

    I've also noticed that people who are in grief need to be allowed to talk about it and so they need my listening more than my speaking.

  • At 8/20/2007 01:53:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    Thank you, Lisa.

  • At 8/20/2007 03:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

    I agree with Lydia. Also, if you don't feel that sorry is enough, why not express that? (ie, "I just don't feel that sorry is expression enough for how I feel for you.") It would be your honest feeling about it.

  • At 8/20/2007 06:54:00 PM, Blogger Linda

    My father-in-law introduced the phrase "the ministry of presence" to me years ago. He lost his wife over 30 years ago, and I believe this was what meant the most to him at the time and what he has practiced very successfully as a minister and hospital chaplain since.

    I think that many times when we want to comfort someone, the words we say are more of a comfort to us than to the one suffering. I try to keep in mind (when I am with grieving people) that whatever I say should be meaningful to the griever and not necessarily to me. But it is a difficult position to be in.

  • At 8/20/2007 09:42:00 PM, Blogger Cheryl

    One small thing that has been very comforting to me in the past was the purposeful helpfulness of friends. People would say, "Let me know if you need anything" and I appreciated their willingness to help, but I definitely preferred it when someone would offer a specific help, like, "You must be exhausted. I'll be making lasagna for dinner on Thursday, why don't I bring you some so you don't have to cook?"

    Someone who is grieving might like some help with day-to-day stuff, but probably doesn't want to coordinate a team of volunteers. Offering to help in a very small, specific way might give your friend a bit of peace and quiet in a very stressful time. I know it has helped me before.

  • At 8/20/2007 09:43:00 PM, Blogger One Voice of Many

    I agree with Lisa, as difficult as it may be to not feel the need to come up with an answer, reason or comforting words, mostly "I'm just so sorry" is about all that can be said.

    Is there a need in your friend's life that you can meet while she plans and participates in the funeral? Help plan? Help with meals? Help at the funeral to record names or meet friends and family? Lightening the burden of "doing" for her and her family might speak much louder than words.

    Michelle K

  • At 8/21/2007 01:52:00 AM, Blogger Miz Melly

    Having just lost my mother and grandmother within 12 weeks of each other, I really appreciated the people who just sent a card instead of calling up because I just didn't have the energy to talk. I was also really grateful when people just gave me space to talk and listened without trying to make me feel better. One friend wrote everything down when I was sharing with her about the last hours with my mother and then she typed it up and gave it too me so that I wouldn't forget those precious words.

  • At 8/21/2007 02:26:00 AM, Blogger lisa

    I like the phrase Linda mentions, "the ministry of presence". That sums it up. And I love what Miz Melly said about typing up what the person has shared with you so as to give them the gift of a journal. That's a really nice gift.

  • At 8/21/2007 12:35:00 PM, Blogger Anne

    "I'm so sorry" is always very appropriate, and I too love that phrase "ministry of presence". It's hard for us to sit in silence and sit in mourning with someone, but for the one who grieves, it can be very comforting.

    When my father died one of my friends wrote down all the things she loved about my dad, and small remembrances about him that were just his own unique little habits and sayings. It was a precious gift, and if I still had it would be one of my most valued treasures.

  • At 8/21/2007 08:25:00 PM, Blogger Heather

    We had friends who lost a child, and the mother said to me that the worst things people could say were "It will all be OK", "I understand" (when they had obviously never been through something like that), and "God has everything under control". They said they would rather people be honest and say "I have no idea what you're going through, but if you need me, I am here. I am praying for you."

    Offering answers and trying to tell them that God is in control just adds pain because at that moment they feel like the world is spinning out of control and nothing will ever be OK again. Saying stuff like that just doesn't cut it - they have to feel it for themselves, and when they are ready they will. Everything else is just empty words.

  • At 8/22/2007 03:21:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    Thanks again, all.

    If we lived in the same city I probably would be stopping over with a casserole or something.

    I'll probably be mailing her a card instead once I have her new address (she's in the process of an inter-state move.)


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