When there are no words

We’ve all been there. Either someone we know has lost a loved one and we struggle to find the right words to comfort them, or we’ve lost a loved one of our own and struggled with some of the things people said – even when they had the best of intentions.

Are they in a better place? Does everything happen for a reason? Maybe so, but these things may not be the best sentiments to share with a grieving person. 

Now, I’m not saying there is a “right” or “wrong” thing to say, but I do think it’s important to think about how that specific person will react to your words. Afterall, words are powerful.

Experiencing loss in my own family, I can tell you there were some amazingly comforting things – and some not so much– that people have said to me. And quite frankly, some of the most comforting things didn’t require words at all.

And I thought, “Why is that??” If words are strong enough to create and destroy, why is it that some of the most powerful statements are made when there are no words involved?

And it doesn’t even have to be a loss – people go through depression, anxiety, and other tough times in their life. And whether they realize it or not at the time, there are people in their life who want to comfort them. But how do we do this in a less invasive way and decrease our chances of saying the wrong thing?

After evaluating my own experience with loss and asking myself what helped the most, there were a few things that truly provided me comfort.

Just be there.

Let’s just be real. No one expects you to have the right words when they’ve experienced a loss (unless maybe you are clergy perhaps). So just be there … just listen … just hold their hand … just pray with them. Your presence means the world to them. And even if there is nothing to say, they are not alone.

Give patience and grace.

I’ve come to learn that people grieve differently. It isn’t always sadness and tears that consume you … sometimes grief morphs into anger, depression, or introversion. If you know this person and you know these newfound characteristics are not the norm, extend grace. Back off if needed, but don’t let them forget you are there to help clear the fog. Don’t let them forget they are loved and supported. Don’t stop inviting them to things you’d normally invite them to – they’ll come when they’re ready, they just have to know you still want them there.

Fill in the gaps.

I’ve known people who have contacted local utility companies and have paid the family’s bill. I’ve seen people send gift cards to local grocery stores or eateries, those who have organized fundraisers to pay for medical bills, and people who have started college funds for children left behind. If you have the means – and want your money to go further than a bouquet of flowers – there are many ways you can ease the financial burden of the family.

Offer practical help.

Grief can cause you to neglect your own basic needs and responsibilities at times. Offering practical help such as running errands, cleaning house, childcare and even laundry can be a lifesaver. You will likely know whether this person would be receptive to help or not, go with your gut.

Meaningful gifts.

Whether you drop off a casserole for their family so there’s one less thing to worry about that day or you drop their favorite coffee or snack off on their porch, food is comforting – especially when you know their favorites. Or maybe it’s a gift in honor of their late loved one that they can cherish forever. No words are required when a thoughtful gift can say it all.

“Sometimes all you need is for someone to be there, even if they can’t solve the problems. Just knowing there is someone who cares makes all the difference.”
–author unknown