How to Talk to Someone Who is Grieving
Updated: Jul 24
It can be uncomfortable to talk to someone who is or who has grieved the loss of a loved one. You might not know what to say or how to engage, you may be scared of saying the wrong thing or of upsetting someone. You might even avoid the subject of the deceased all together just to err on the side of caution.
Why do we feel anxious talking to someone who is grieving?
People think that if they talk about a lost loved one then they are reminding the person who is grieving of the deceased; they think that if the mourner appears to be OK then there is no need to bring up the subject of the deceased and risk upsetting them. In turn, many people try to avoid talking about the person who died. However, it is important to note that people who are grieving the loss of a loved one do not “forget” their loved ones. By talking about them or bringing them up in conversation, it does not “remind” the mourner of the person they lost. The deceased are always in their hearts and minds. On the contrary, by bringing up the deceased you are showing the person who is grieving that you have not forgotten them.
One of the difficulties that parents and others feel when they have lost a loved one, especially a child, is the fear that the deceased will be forgotten, that their imprint in this world will be lost because of their brief time in this world. Talking about memories and anecdotes shows the mourners that the one they lost meant something to you and that you have not forgotten him or her. It also gives the grievers the opportunity to talk about their lost loved ones. It gives them a healthy platform to discuss the things that are in their mind. This continues to be important throughout the lifespan of the grievers, as the pain of their loss might never completely heal. It is helpful to continue to honor the deceased by talking about them and bringing them up even years after they pass. By doing so, you are not creating negative feelings, but you are instead enabling the people who grieve to talk about the feelings they already have inside.
Not every person who grieves reacts the same or needs the same resources from family and friends. Some are open and want to talk about their loved ones, while others are more private. It is important to take their cue. If they seem unwilling to talk about it, then there is no need to push. See how the grievers accept or reject your attempt. What you should keep in mind is that by mentioning the deceased you are not reminding anyone of the pain or of the loved one, that pain and the memory exist whether you say anything or not. Your attempt at talking about them may in fact bring happiness and comfort to them. If they are not ready or willing to engage, there is no need to pursue it further, but at least the grievers will know that you continue to remember and honor the memory of the loved ones.