Knowing What to Say When Someone Loses Their Significant Other
Grief touches all our lives at some point, but it’s a new, painful experience each time. When someone you love loses their significant other, all you want is to be there for them, to comfort them, to let them know you care. But it’s hard to find the right words. What if you say the wrong thing? What if you inadvertently make their pain worse?
Every person attempting to offer comfort has these thoughts. Most grieving people understand that their friends and family mean well, but there are still phrases that are more comforting than others. Shifting away from some common clichés to these phrases can go a long way toward offering empathy and comfort.
- "I can only imagine what you’re going through.” This phrase acknowledges the uniqueness of each grieving situation. No matter how close you are to the person in mourning, you can’t possibly know the nuances of how they feel. Grief is not straightforward: it’s fraught with other emotions, many of them contradictory. This phrase can be used in place of “I know how you feel,” which assumes that all grief is universal. To a grieving person, their mourning feels unprecedented. It’s important to keep that in mind.
- “I’ll bring dinner over on Tuesday.” Or “I’ll mow your lawn on Friday.” Or “I’ll pick up some fresh produce at the farmer’s market for you this weekend.” Whatever need you know you can help fulfill, do it. We’re often tempted to say, “let me know if I can do anything,” but that shifts responsibility to the grieving person. In the throes of grief, that person might not even know what they need. We know our capabilities and most of us can guess what our friend or family member might need. Pick something helpful to do and do it.
- “I am so sorry for your loss.” This phrase is straightforward and honest. It doesn’t require an answer from your grieving friend, and it expresses your true feelings without offering any empty platitudes.
- “I’ll never forget the time…” Sharing great memories of the lost spouse can bring moments of joy and warmth to the dark process of grief. As time goes on, returning to good memories will be a source of comfort to the grieving person. In the initial days, it may help the person in mourning to be reminded of those fond memories.
- “…” Nothing at all might be the right thing to say. Instead offer a hug, a hand to hold or a gentle touch on the shoulder. You can communicate your sympathy through touch and a willingness to listen to the person in mourning. An open ear often means more than anything you can say.
Being present with your friend or family member through the loss of their spouse will mean everything to them. Finding the right words to give comfort can be difficult. Just know that the most important thing you can do is show up for your loved one in their time of need. If your grieving friend or loved one is a resident at one of Hillside Terrace’s assisted living community in Ann Arbor, please feel free to contact us at 734-761-4451. Our professional staff will be happy to assist you in any way possible.