"I don't know what to say". You may want to console a close family member, friend or neighbor when you see them soon after experiencing a significant loss but you may be at a loss for words. This is definitely not unusual acknowledging that we live in a culture that has limited time and tolerance for sadness and tears.
"How are you?" commonly accompanies greetings between two people whether on the phone or in person. Don't you find the response is most frequently "Fine, How are you?"
With further assessment, we may discover that one or both of you may not be fine at all but heaven forbid that should come out in the initial greeting. The plain and simple assessment is that "fine" is the status quo and the older you are the more likely there are woes that go unspoken. Sharing the woes is just uncomfortable. "What is the point of complaining, no one will listen."
Since there are a number of family and friends not prepared to console people who are struggling through loss, it is no wonder that people who are grieving withdraw, end up in a doctors office, treated medically with depression or other diagnosis. It really does not paint the picture of a kind and compassionate society. After acknowledging and assessing, here are a few tips to assist in consoling people struggling through loss:
Sincerity: Be honest and let the person who is grieving know that you just do not know what to say after offering your condolences "Sorry for your loss - I just do not know what to say"
Presence in Silence: Assess for yourself, are you comfortable with silence? In a Friends of Hospice blog post offering support for a grieving person, one of their tips was "Be willing to sit in silence. Don’t press if the grieving person doesn’t feel like talking. Often, comfort for them comes from simply being in your company." In the article "The Hidden Benefits of Silence" one of the benefits listed was that silence encourages mindfulness, being present and allowing things to be just as they are. "Being mindful allows you to settle into your mind and body and sit with the present moment. If you feel the impulse to stimulate your brain, try and redirect your attention to the quiet, present moment."
Listen: While you may be stressing on what to say, it is more important to be a good listener. If you are planning out your next meal's menu while the griever is speaking to you, you are not genuinely listening. Be present with the griever while listening.
For people who are grieving, actions, like hugs, can speak louder than words to show your sincere support and contribute towards a kind and compassionate society.