life tracker


By Tiffany B. Coyne

What To Do and Say

1.) Reach Out and Address the Loss:

Don’t let fear or nervousness hold you back.  Saying something simple is far better than saying nothing at all.

2.) Directly Talk About the Deceased:

Mention the person who died by name.  You won’t catch the griever off guard by directly mentioning the person who died because that person is already on their mind.  Instead, you’ll comfort them with knowing the deceased person is acknowledged and remembered.  Encourage the griever to share a story or memory of the one who died.

3.) Be a Good Listener:

Sometimes, your presence and a listening ear are more comforting than words.  It’s okay to admit if you don’t have the right words.  Silence can be powerful.  Sitting with someone speaks volumes.

4.) Ask Directly What They Need:

Keep the conversation centered on what the griever needs, not what you want to provide.  Ask directly how best you can support them.  If they cannot pinpoint something specific, that’s okay – the key is to ask.  Keep checking in so you provide them with the opportunity to comfortably express their preferences when they’re ready.  This is about respecting their individual needs and not pressuring them with what you think is best.

5.) Respect Different Grieving Styles:

Understand that everyone expresses grief differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all way to go through the grieving process.

6.) Offer Practical Support:

Avoid vague statements when offering help.  Be specific about what you can do.  Instead of saying “let me know if you need anything,” consider practical ways you can help.  Offer personally tailored tasks like doing laundry, handling dishes, dropping off meals or groceries, watching children, or running errands.

7.) Provide Ongoing Support:

Recognize grief is a lifelong journey, and continuous support is crucial.  Avoid assumptions the griever will “get over it” or that just because time has gone by, the pain is not as acute.

8.) Remember Special Days:

Be there on significant days like anniversaries, birthdays, and other special occasions.  Not acknowledging these moments because you’re worried about bringing it up or believe sufficient time has gone by isolates a person in their grief.  Reaching out shows you care about the impact of their loss and remember the one who died.

9.) Allow for the Ugliness of Grief:

Grief is ugly.  It is not neatly wrapped in a bow and does not stay inside the lines.  It can be messy and loud (even without words).  Be a calm and supportive witness, allowing the grieving person to navigate their emotions.  Encourage them to be gentle with themselves.


What Not To Do or Say

1.) Don’t Be Fooled By Appearances:

When supporting someone in grief, don’t let appearances fool you.  The griever may, at times, be coping well or seem like they have it all handled, but this is only a part of their journey.  Grief is a rollercoaster.  Emphasizing how well they are managing or how strong they are may make them feel alone like you’re not seeing the whole picture.  While it’s okay to offer compliments or encouragement if it feels genuine or you know the person well, be careful not to overdo it and artificially try to uplift them.  Try using “How are you today?” or “How are you at this moment?” so they can answer honestly without feeling judged or pressured to answer in a certain way.

2.) Don’t start any sentence with “at least:”

Nothing you say to try and make it better and “pumped up” with positivity will resonate with someone who is actively grieving.  Don’t say minimizing phrases like “at least he died quickly” or “at least you got to see him one last time” or “at least she is not suffering anymore” or “at least you can have another child.”  If the griever wants to bring up any of that, let them take the lead.  Your role is to provide support and empathy, not highlight perceived silver linings.

3.) Avoid Clichés and Comparisons:

Stay clear of clichés and comparisons, such as “everything happens for a reason” or “I know how you feel.”  Don’t bring in your own experience as a comparison to what they are going through.

4.) Be Mindful of Spiritual Assumptions:

Avoid making assumptions or imposing spiritual beliefs.  Not everyone will find comfort in statements like “they are in a better place.”

5.) Don’t Impose Timelines or Pressure to Move On:

Grieving is a unique process, and there’s no set timeframe for healing.  It is non-linear and, although it changes, it does not end.  Do not pressure the grieving person to move on.  Grieving is a personal journey, and everyone manages it at their own pace.

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