Finding Words of Comfort

February 24, 2017

All of us face death. We are confronted with times when we search for words to say to a friend who is bereaved. Sometimes people say things that are insensitive. Others with few words may convey great comfort.

Grief is a difficult process. A person feels shock and numbness at hearing of a loss. A sense of denial or unreality may come next. It’s common to feel like the lost loved one may be in the house with us or will walk through the door at any minute. Powerful emotions come with grief. We need to allow people to cry and express their feelings. Comforting the bereaved is not to cheer them up. Rather, we are willing to be there for someone, to be emotionally supportive, while allowing them to express the full range of emotions that come with their loss.

It is important never to minimize someone’s loss. Allow them their feelings. Don’t come across as if you know exactly how they feel, instead use words that invite them to express how they feel. I ran across a list of some alternative statements when confronting the crises of grief. Maybe these will help us in finding words of comfort.

    INSTEAD OF: “I know exactly how you feel.”
    TRY: “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”

    INSTEAD OF: “At least he doesn’t have to suffer anymore.”

    TRY: “He suffered through a lot, didn’t he?”

    INSTEAD OF: “It’s God’s will.”
    TRY: “One comfort I find is God’s promise never to abandon us.”

    INSTEAD OF: “Don’t you think it’s time to get on with your life.”
    TRY: “Everyone has to grieve in their own way, don’t they?”

    INSTEAD OF: “She wouldn’t want you to grieve.”
    TRY: “It’s hard to say good-bye, isn’t it?”

    INSTEAD OF: “Don’t cry — you’ll only make it worse.”
    TRY: “Sometimes tears are the best way to express our feelings.”

    INSTEAD OF: “This death is a victory for God.”
    TRY: “Even with the promise of the resurrection, it hurts to give someone up.”

    INSTEAD OF: “You’ve got to be strong.”
    TRY: “I want you to know it’s OK to be yourself around me.”

    INSTEAD OF: “You can’t be angry with God.”

    TRY: “God understands even when we’re upset.”

I do not remember the source of these sayings at this point in my life, but I believe they contain wise counsel. The point is not so much to memorize the better sayings, but to catch the spirit of them. We don’t want to minimize someone’s grief, artificially attempt to cheer them up, or tell them how they should feel. We want to be there for them and allow them to express their grief even though it means sharing in their pain.