There are ways to encourage and help people who have lost loved ones … and ways to hurt them, intentions aside. This handy list shares some of the best ways to be supportive as well as a few “sensitivity tips” that will help you avoid inflicting pain as time goes by.
Do ask questions. Examples: Does your son need a ride to basketball practice with my boys? / May I pick up some things at the grocery store for you when I go?
Don’t ask intrusive questions, tell horror stories that happened to others, or compare grief.
Do share good memories and the impact the deceased had on your life. Examples: I remember when Dale was kind enough to help me fix my car. / As my boss, he always encouraged me when I felt I had failed.
Don’t gossip about the person who died or about the family.
Do listen. Examples: I hear what you’re saying. / I want to be here for you, and I hope it helps if I just listen.
Don’t shrug off a family member or friend (or disappear) because they have experienced a loss and are not their normal selves.
Do help stop stigma. Examples: Let me tell you more about mental illness. / I’ve learned a few things about suicide that I would like to share with you. / What you’re saying is hurtful.
Don’t ignore jokes. Examples: Losing someone you love is not funny. / Please don’t make jokes about such a serious subject. / I don’t agree with what you said.
You don’t have to be an expert in psychology to offer compassion and to help other people understand. Just being there to show you care has so much value to those in pain.