How to Communicate with Someone Grieving

 We All Grieve

We All Grieve

Warning:

This blog post is a slight departure from my standard upbeat communication and speaking tips, but it is valuable nonetheless.  I am finding that as we grow older we may find that the people we care for in our lives, including ourselves, will experience loss and it helps to know the “How to” basics of communicating with them.

In fact, I wrote this article some time ago to help me get through my own personal “losses” and how I could communicate and be there for my family members.

No need to cheer me up and ask if I am doing okay, because time and grieving are all part of the process to move to a place of peace and acceptance.

Remember, loss comes in many forms, weather we lose a family member who passes, pet, job, partner (through separation/divorce, friendship, home, the list goes on and each person reacts differently).   Personally, I withdraw and get quite, I don’t share it on social media or such, which is the complete opposite of my personality – Hey “life happens” to everyone even if they don’t post it on Facebook or Instagram.

 

Think about it for just a moment, how do you react during times of loss how much do you share?

 

There are two inevitable truths in our existence as human beings, we are born and we eventually perish. In the meantime we, along with those close to us, family, colleagues and the like, will suffer loss.

 

Personally, I am a people pleaser and I like to fix things and help others feel better. I have had friends who have lost parents to cancer, beloved grandparents, along with family of my own. I have made mistakes and have been on the receiving end of others awkward consolation.   But the truth is grieving and loss is a process each person deals in their own way. The most important thing is to let them know you love them, you care for them and that you are there for them whether they need you or not.

 

Navigating these emotional currents can be tricky, but I have learned some things along the way through my experience, mistakes and research. The following are some tips that will help communicate and manage your relationships with someone who is experiencing the extreme grief of losing a loved one.

Don’t be insensitive

This one should go without saying, but it must be said. Often times, when people talk to someone who’s recently lost a loved one, they tend to say things to try and comfort the individual over the loss they’ve just experienced with almost mind-bogglingly-dumb platitudes, but generally this can be a bad idea. Think of this person as a minefield, where one wrong step can cause them to explode with overwhelming emotion that can cause them to feel furthermore pain. This is why we shouldn’t say things like “he’s/she’s in a better place now” or “I completely understand how you feel” (you may or may not, but they won’t see it that way at that particular moment). It is best to offer your condolences in a matter of fact, direct manner, such as “I am sorry for your loss” and offer them the ability to discuss things if THEY desire to do so, a phase such as “If you need someone to talk to I’m here”. The gist is that you want to offer support without being insensitive or overbearing.

Don’t ask many questions

Asking too many questions about such a sensitive subject is simply a bad idea, generally the family of the deceased will have a level of comfort with sharing details, some may want to honor the life of their lost one by speaking freely about them and their accomplishments in life up their last days, others may not be so open to sharing any detail and would prefer to keep it within their closest family members and no one else. If you’re faced with the latter group, it would be wise not to continue prying.

Do not ask dumb questions

This one is an extension of the last segment, while you shouldn’t be asking too many questions to begin with, if you’re given the opportunity to do so, don’t ask questions that try to make it seem okay or any less worse than it is for that person or group of people. Questions like “How old was he?”, “Was he a smoker?” or “Did he have his seat-belt on?” are all questions that can generally imply that their lost loved one was at least partially to blame for their own death, or that since they were older in age, it was only natural for their death to occur, so it should hurt less. Common sense goes a long way!

Help with food

When going through such an experience, most people tend to lose the motivation to do much in their lives for some time, and that includes cooking dinner and grocery shopping. In an effort to help the grieving through their long journey, you can organize a food drive, for example, where close friends offer to drop off cooked meals and restaurant gift certificates so that they can have a variety of food choices available to them.

 

Such efforts will help those close to you stay in touch and make sure that they’re still okay.  Just make sure not to overdo it; grieving is a unique process for everyone, it could be short, come in waves, long and painful, a variety of the mentioned.  Allow your loved ones and friends to go through their process – be patient and give them time.

“When grief is deep, words are few and action is the loudest comfort.”

~Ellie Parvin

About Ellie Parvin

Ellie is a Communication Consultant, Professor, Speaker, Writer, Mentor, Coach and has a passion for motivating and inspiring others by sharing her insight, expertise and lessons learned.

She loves to teach and is a Communication Professor, as well as a Fitness instructor. She teaches Business Communication, Media & Culture, Public Speaking and Academic Writing.

Ellie is obsessed with the way people communicate and how various personal and environmental factors can alter the perception of information/message/meaning delivered and received between those in communication.

She received her B.A. in Journalism from San Francisco State University and M.A. in Communications & Organizational Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA.

Published Thesis: Critical Theory and Gender Communication Studies in Small Organizations.

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