5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving

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Today I am honored to have a guest post included on Ruth Soukup’s blog, Living Well Spending Less.

Hello all!  I am Susan B. Mead, an author, speaker, chaplain and mom. I authored the book, Dance with Jesus: From Grief to Grace. Prior to that, I spent 22+ years in corporate America with Johnson & Johnson until I decided to retire 10-years early because I realized things get broken, discarded and replaced in life, but people matter…and I wanted to spend time with those who matter most. Why?

  • In 2004, I lost Bette, my younger sister and a brilliant PhD nurse, to suicide.
  • In 2008, I lost Kyle, my 20 year old college-aged son to drugs and alcohol on the last night of spring break.
  • In 2013, I was in the grandstands cheering on Amby Burfoot, my cousin, as he ran the 45th anniversary of winning the Boston Marathon, only to see the first bomb explode directly across the street.

Having experienced my share of grief, I learned God shines the brightest light in the darkest moments and shows up when we need him most. I simply want to share my journey to inspire, empower and equip others…You too can find grace in the midst of grief.

Remember That Your Words Matter

The first thing I learned when training as a Chaplain was that the most gracious words you can share when a friend is dealing with loss are “I can’t imagine…”

I can’t imagine dignifies their loss, their pain and their feelings. It also shows how much you care about your words and their dignity. Give your precious friend the grace you would want should you find yourself in their situation.

How do you give grace? Following the words I can’t imagine, here is the key point. Please do not be tempted to define their grief with your words. Insert no words such as pain, anger, devastation, hopelessness, helplessness, etc. Any word inserted is how you would feel and may or may not address their feelings.

I care. You matter to me. I’m here to listen. You are in my prayers.
Yes, your words matter, so please choose them wisely. Your intention is to comfort your friend rather than wound them with your words, so pause a moment and consider carefully how you would feel hearing the words you are about to say.

Please be mindful and skip platitudes or words that minimize your friend’s loss and their feelings. Examples follow—God needed a new angel. They are better off. Have you heard about this person’s loss? Or I know exactly how you feel (please do not follow these words with a tirade about you or someone else).

Your words can offer your friend such comfort and peace.

Should your friend be dealing with a loss of a family member or friend due to suicide or drug/alcohol interaction or overdose, remember to not minimize the person or the loss of that person. God’s greater plan may take a long time to unfold, so please withhold any words that may be misinterpreted as judgmental on your part. We learn that we don’t always know God’s plan even when it seems so evident.

Here’s just a couple of examples I heard following my sister’s suicide:
I’m so sorry she committed the unpardonable sin. I’m so sorry she’s gone to hell.

Or this comment I heard at a friend’s son’s funeral:
Well, he was just a “druggy” anyway, so no big loss.

Can you imagine adding the burden of hearing those (or similar) words to your loss or your friend’s loss? None of us would intentionally speak so callously.

Read more at Living Well Spending Less


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29 thoughts on “5 Ways to Comfort Someone Who is Grieving

  1. I learned so much when cancer took my Mom when I was 23. my Grandma who lived with us died 8 months later. It was such a sad time and none of my friends knew what to say at that age. My brother, sister and I grieved differently, and that is normal. I think it taught me to be sensitive to others’ pain.
    We can so easily say the wrong things, so I love your post!

    1. Sarah,

      God was holding y’all so close during that time. To heal and protect.

      Yes, I totally agree – He makes us so much more sensitive to others thru our challenges.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. It means the world to me. Susan

  2. Hello beautiful! Great post. Pinned and tweeted. I hope to see you on tonight at 7 pm because we love to party with you! Happy Memorial Day! Lou Lou Girls

  3. Susan,
    Thank you for these tips. I’m always at a loss for words when attempting to encourage one who is grieving. But what I take away from this is to save trite platitudes and to support by listening and being available.

  4. Hello Susan, I went over and finished reading yesterday. I noticed I had forgotten to leave a comment.
    I can not fully comprehend what a grieving person is going through. But your suggestions are very useful. We want to be there to really give our bit of comfort but may not do it right.
    I appreciate your article.
    God bless

    1. Blessed that you have not dealt with grief personally Ifeoma. Thank you for caring enough to prepare for a friend! That’s blessed.

  5. Oh Susan…I can’t imagine what’s it’s like to have gone through the loss you have. And to hear the hurtful words? Whoa! They were difficult for me to read, let alone hear. I am glad that you’ve come alongside us today with such gentleness and “real life” direction. A friend of mine lost her baby this past year. I wasn’t sure what to say. Golly, I wish I’d had your post prior to that. Your words are soaking in. I hope I don’t need them, but living on this globe includes a high probability. So thankful you leaned into God and are willing to share.

    1. Thank you Kristi. Hug your friend. Then do it again and tell her it’s from me. Then again. Tell her that one’s Jesus.

      I pray you don’t yet agree there’s a high probability you will. Hugs. Susan

  6. Well said, and very good wisdom. People tend to say too much in times of grief. Less is more, and sometimes no words are needed.

  7. Wise and compassionate advice! May we yield to the Holy Spirit to give us the words to minister to those needing comfort. Linked up with you at Playdates with God — hope you’ll stop by Saved by Grace for a visit!
    God bless,

    1. Laurie, I would be honored to stop by. May I invite you to #DanceWithJesus linkup each Friday? SusanBMead.com/blog-2 each week. Your words would bless us

  8. Susan, you have written what everyone should read, hear, experience as words make such a difference to one who grieves. They make a difference to all of us as words that should never have spilled out can hurt, cause disharmony and division, and so much more. I have had my share of loss and know that words can bless and can dig deeply.
    Thank you so much.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

  9. You have certainly seen your share of grief. Such an authentic post, and it’s true, “I can only imagine” is a good way to validate what the grieving person is feeling. The fewer words said, the better, and just being there, loving, listening and grieving along with them gives so much comfort. Thankyou for sharing.

    1. Thank you Ruthie. Yes, presence is so welcome and comforting. NOW I know that-yet there are so many friends who I shied away from in their hurt and pain as I did not know “what to say” so I stayed away. That is no longer the best option for me!

  10. I am so glad I read this. I never, EVER want to speak a wrong word to grieving heart. Oh my, to let the tongue say anything that would injure an already wounded soul, would be horrible. Thank you for this Susan. Your advice of short but meaningful is so wise. Love this post because it really instructed my soul from the inside/out. Cheering you on from the #RaRalinkup on Purposefulfaith.com

    1. Thank you Kelly. None of us want to hurt anyone, so having our eyes opened is so powerful so we can be there for our friends when they need us, right?

  11. Wow, Susan. You have suffered a great deal of grief. This advice is perfect timing for me. I’m reading it 2 days after my deceased husband’s birthday. My daughter and I sent balloons up to him. He died almost 17 years ago, but we grieve all over again every year on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. Heading over to read the rest of your advice!

    1. Hugs…from my heart to yours, Candace. I can’t imagine your loss. Yes, anniversaries and other significant days do pull the emotion front and center for us yet again, don’t they? Hugs again. Susan

    1. Thank you Ally. We all want to support our friends especially in their darkest moments, right?

  12. What an important post. Thankyou. It’s so hard to find the right words even when we’ve experienced grief ourselves. This is really helpful Susan. Lovely. Mimi xxx

    1. Thank you Mimi. I agree wholeheartedly and heard so much that it was a wonderful opportunity to share a bit.

      Have you seen Dance With Jesus: From Grief to Grace? More there too!

  13. I appreciate this post. I never know what to say when a tragedy strikes. A friend of mine is going through divorce and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry” and “I’m praying for you”. I’ll have to remember to say “I can’t imagine” because it’s true, I honestly can’t imagine what they are going through. Thank you for your words of wisdom! It was a blessing to be neighbors for #RaRaLinkup.

    1. So true Samantha. Grief looks different to each one of us. Person, pet, marriage, friend. Whatever. Loss is loss and we simply can’t imagine.

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