I know, I know, it’s the most common phrase people say when someone dies. As someone who has been the personal recipient of that particular sympathy greeting, I can honestly say I hated it. It just feels like an empty phrase. Sure, you may be sorry that this happened, but now you’ve put me in a corner and expect me to respond to that. How does one respond to that? Thank you? Definitely not with the truth.
More often than not, when hoards of people are offering sympathy and condolences, they’re expecting a simple “thank you”. I usually responded with a “Yeah.” and changed the subject and I noticed that even that seemed to make people uncomfortable. It was a weird feeling.
I spent some time researching websites that answer the question about what to say when someone dies and some of the answers were cringeworthy.
“Things will be normal again soon”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“Cheer up. Your (loved one who died) wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
“Cherish all of the wonderful memories. They will bring you peace.”
Let’s take a closer look at these.
- “Things will be normal again soon” – Things will not be normal again soon, or ever. Eventually, you WILL establish a new routine for yourself and that will become your new normal, but to say things will return to how they were before is just a flat out lie.
- “I know exactly how you feel.” – This one is a quick one. You don’t. And if you ever say this to someone, you deserve to be slapped.
- “Cherish all of the wonderful memories. They will bring you peace.” – At first glance, this may seem like the right thing to say. It’s full of positivity and hope. However, one of the healthiest ways to navigate grief is to feel it. To ride those waves and move through those currents of emotions.
- “Cheer up. Your (loved one who died) wouldn’t want you to be sad.” – This one also deserves a chin check.
Here are a two that I found to be incredibly helpful:
- “I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.” – This is wonderful, but only say it if you mean it.
- “I’m always up late/early if you’re having trouble sleeping and you want to talk.”- Sleep is hard to come by, and more often than not, the bereaved person may feel most alone in the wee hours of the morning when the rest of the world is asleep.
An honorable mention goes out to a really great friend of mine for asking “How would you like me to pray for you?”
I was so touched by this. Most people told me they were praying for me, but they were following it up with things like “you’ll dream about him”, and “he’s never really gone”. I didn’t want EITHER of those things.
I remember asking her to pray for dreamless sleep, because I was just so tired.
Loving through action is by far my favorite response to learning of a death (but you guys know this by now). I’m so grateful that most of the people I have in my life knew how to do exactly that.
So, there you have it. Go out into the world, and love.