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52 Weekly Tips

Weekly Email Tips to Support a Grieving Friend

It's hard to know what to say when someone experiences loss. Our free weekly newsletter provides insights, quotes and messages on how to help during the first year.

Anything and Everything

How often does it happen?  You get together with family or friends and you're having a good time.  But after a while you notice that people are talking about everything and everyone EXCEPT the person who died, even when it would be natural to include something about him or her in the conversation.  They all tip-toe around it, and avoid even mentioning the name. Why is everyone so afraid?

The truth is they are well-meaning but uninformed.  They are afraid that if they say the name they will make you sad or spoil your evening.  They think it is their job to “cheer you up” or take your mind off of the reality.

They don’t realize it is not their job to "fix it". They can’t take your grief away anyway - the loss is always in your mind, no matter how hard others try to move it away. Nor do they realize: how much you long to hear the name, how badly you want to know that someone besides you remembers, how hungry you are for the stories and memories they could share.

They can be much more comforting if they can acknowledge and accept your sadness, give you an understanding smile or a hug, or even cry with you. Grief that is shared is diminished, but grief that is repressed or denied festers inside until it finds a way to come out.

Besides, tears are healthy.  Despite our fears to the contrary, no one in the history of the world has ever started crying and not been able to stop.  Most people report feeling relieved or freed or even cleansed after a good cry.  And tears contain physiological chemicals that relieve stress; we are supposed to cry when we are sad.

So what can you do when people are afraid to say the name?  The easiest thing is to say the name yourself.  Bring up a story or a memory that involves your spouse whenever it seems to fit. That gives others permission to say the name, too.

You can even address the issue explicitly, saying, "You know, sometimes people are afraid to mention the name for fear of making me sad.  But I love to hear it, and to share in your stories and memories.  Please don't be afraid."

If you do start to cry, say something like, "Don't worry. You did not make me cry.  The tears are there anyway, and every once in a while they spill over. It's OK.  Please don't let my tears make you stop talking about your memories. I love to know that someone else remembers too."

You will still find that some people are uncomfortable with your grief and sadness.  In their presence, you may have to go along with the illusion that you are happy and everything is fine. There will be others, though, with whom you can freely share whatever you are experiencing.  Friends who can hear you, hug you, cry with you, and walk through grief with you are priceless treasures.  With them, you can truly have a good time. 

© 2011, Amy Florian.  Used by permission.


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