What to say to someone who is grieving

The other day I walked into my bedroom and saw my husband lying on the bed reading my Dad’s book. He closed it and set it aside as I perched on the edge of the bed. I picked it up and ran a hand over the coarse cover.

“I can hear Dad’s voice in my head as I read this,” I said. Sudden emotion took me by surprise. That’s when I realized that since Dad passed away only 2 months after Lizy passed away I never really took the time to grieve or cry for him. I suppose it had to hit some time.

That experience had me thinking about grief. It wasn’t too long ago that I was one of the many who had no clue what to say to someone who had lost a loved one – especially someone who had lost a child. I often wonder with a little horror if I said one of those well-meant phrases that we (those grieving) never want to hear. I probably did – and I am grateful for friends who were patient with me and forgave my unintentional insensitivity.

Truth is that unless you have gone through a similar experience, you really don’t know – what to say or do – unless someone tells you. So, I thought I would share some insight on what those of us who have lost children (and other loved ones) do and don’t want to hear.

What we don’t want:

We don’t want to hear that she is in a better place. If we believe in Heaven – we already know with our minds that is true, if we don’t believe in Heaven I imagine it’s just an insult (I wouldn’t really know – I believe in Heaven). But our hearts rule our minds and every time I heard that phrase I thought, “I am sure Heaven is wonderful, but what better place can there be for a child than in her mother’s & father’s arms.”

We don’t want to hear that it was God’s plan, He needed her for a special work, it was his will, etc – all these things are things that most of us know or believe – we don’t really need to hear it – we are struggling with so many emotions – All the knowledge in the world of where we go after death and that families are eternal and that we’ll see our loved one again may give us plenty of hope, but it will not erase the emotions we go through and the act of missing that loved one. We know that she is doing a very special work and that it was His will she go home to Him… we still miss her lots.

Don’t tell us you know what we feel – unless you have been there – experienced the same kind of loss we have experienced.

Don’t ask what we need – we don’t know, really – our brains are a muddled mess. Simply think of a task and offer to do it. I was so relieved when a friend simply asked, “do you want me to make up the funeral programs.” Another friend simply saw the lawn growing long and began to mow it. Many others saw the disastrous state of my laundry and jumped in. I am grateful for those who asked if they could help – I just couldn’t think enough to reply with a coherent answer. (I still have a scattered & muddled brain sometimes and it’s been 10 months now…)

Don’t give us a timeline on grief – it’s different for everyone and comes and goes.

What we (I) want to hear – I’ll do this in I form – some may feel differently than me, everyone grieves differently….

I want to hear her name. It lets me know you remember her.

I want to hear memories – rather than saying she’s in a better place, tell me you remember her smile, or the way her eyes shined, or the sound of her giggle. I might tear up a little, but I’ll be able to remember too and she’ll feel closer.

A hug says more than words, every time. And it’s ok for you to cry too – it means you loved them too.

I’m sorry for your loss – that’s an ok one to say – especially if accompanied with a memory or a hug.

I love to hear experiences people have had that involve her – in life & in death. If she has touched your life in some way, let us know – especially if you were touched in some way after she passed – it reminds me that good things can come out of tragedy.

I want to know she is remembered and loved by others than just her family.

Be willing to listen and be patient if it seems all we can do is talk about our loved one – we miss them and want to remember them – talking about them is one of the only ways we have to truly feel close to them and like we’re not forgetting them.

I have a good friend who asks me questions about her – things she liked to do, eat, read – I love that. I love that someone wants to know more about one of the most amazing people I ever knew.

Also, don’t be afraid to just talk to us – we are still us and enjoy talking – about anything – Lizy or other. 🙂

I think that is my main list. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone who grieves. It’s true for me, and I believe others feel the same away by at least some of these. When in doubt of what to say, don’t say anything – just give them a hug and let them know you care.  If you have said one of the don’ts in the list – it’s ok – we know it was meant with the best of intentions, we just want to let you know for the future.

I believe in God. I know families can be together forever. I don’t mind hearing sentiments about her mission in Heaven – really I don’t – but more than any of those, I love to know that she is remembered. I can hear those sentiments much easier now than I could 10 months ago, though at times it is still difficult.

I have to remind my self often that if Jesus Christ wept for Lazurus, I can weep for my daughter – and my father and that there is nothing wrong with missing them.

It’s not self pity.

It’s not a lack of faith.

Grief is simply proof that we loved someone with all our hearts.

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6 Comments

Filed under Child loss

6 responses to “What to say to someone who is grieving

  1. Holly

    This was beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. JoAn Stephens

    So well said–thank you for writing it. As a Mother who has lost 3 (one infant , one teenager and one adult) I still have moments when I see a handsome, curlyhaired teenage boy and my heart clutches within me. Sometimes I am awakened by a ringing phone and reach for it anticipating my Daughter’s voice only to realize it didn’t really ring. Many times, as I rejoice in my Babies Twin Sister’s achievements, I wonder how she would have lived her life.
    I, too, have a strong testimony of the Gospel and believe we will be together in the afterlife. But sometimes I would like to hold them one more time.

  3. Robi

    I lost my husband 7 years ago, and even though I have remarried and have a wonderful life full of many blessings, the aching and longing for him has never gone away. To anyone reading this, please know the advice above still applies no matter how much time has passed. Others may forget, but we don’t, so when you come across someone who has had a loss in their life, know that we still have a desire to talk about our loved one from time to time, and that sometimes we still have really bad days or even weeks. While others have moved on, our need to continue in the grieving process is often overlooked. Please don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions, the above statement is true, that talking about them helps us to remember them, and we are delighted when someone wants to know about someone who had an amazing impact on our lives.

  4. I remember taking her picture. How sweet and gentle and smiley she was. How well your girls got along…
    I just had a thought. Would you like me to send a cd of all the pics I took years ago? Send me a message on facebook with your address and I would love to do that… (I’m embarrassed that I didn’t think of this long ago!)

  5. Jan Johnson

    I’d love to see you write an article on this topic for the Ensign. I’m a freelance writer and believe you’re on track with how you presented this topic. All of this was well said and touched me.
    Thank you

  6. Dear J. and family,
    I loved seeing Lizy in your family photos from when she dressed up for your nativity to your family excursions. You always looked like you were having fun.

    Really, I get where you are coming from and I try to word expressions of sympathies carefully. I guess if someone takes the time to write something that is a nice thing too. Hugs to you and everyone!

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