Talking to someone who has recently been bereaved is not easy. Juliette Taylor at Coodes Solicitors shares her top ten tips for these difficult conversations.
As a lawyer who specialises in elderly client law, and advises on Wills and probate, I come into regular contact with people who have been bereaved. Talking to someone who has recently lost a loved one is difficult and can be very upsetting, especially if the death was sudden and unexpected. While everyone experiences grief differently and there are no hard and fast rules, here are some tips to help you.
1. Do not ignore what has happened
It is common not to know what to say when someone you know has loses a loved one. If the death was sudden, you may feel shocked and may simply not be able to find the words. Or perhaps you are fearful of saying the wrong thing and adding to your friend’s upset. Not acknowledging the death, however, is the worst thing you can do.
2. Send a card or letter if you cannot speak face to face
If you do not feel able to have a face to face conversation with a friend who has been bereaved, or are simply unable to see them, send a letter or a card. It will really help them to know you are thinking of them.
3. Try to understand if a bereaved friend does not want to see you
You may find that your calls or emails are ignored, at least at first. Your friend may simply not feel ready to respond to your invitation to meet up or even to speak to you. Grief takes time and is an unpredictable process with many different stages. Don’t give up on someone who is bereaved. Leave the door open to your friendship and perhaps they will feel able to respond next time you get in touch.
4. Be prepared to talk about the person who has died
Many people imagine that talking about the person who has died will be very upsetting for someone who has recently been bereaved. In fact, this is exactly what some people want to do and they may want to reminisce as a way of keeping the person alive. If you did not know the deceased person, you could start by saying something like “I didn’t know your husband, but I wish I had.” This gives them the opportunity to talk about their loved one, should they wish to. Everyone is different though, so try to read the signals and let them take the conversation in the direction that suits them.
5. Offer practical help while they are grieving
It is normal to want to help a friend who is grieving. However, simply saying “let me know if I can help with anything,” may not be enough to encourage them to call on you. Offers of specific practical help, such as looking after their children for a couple of hours, cooking a meal or taking care of specific funeral arrangements, are generally more likely to be taken up.
6. Avoid clichés
When we feel uncomfortable and are lost for words, we often resort to clichés. If someone has died, this can mean using phrases like “I know how you feel,” or “time is a great healer,” to show you are sympathetic. Unfortunately these phrases are fairly unhelpful. Instead, try to speak to them in a more personal and individual way.
7. Remember that listening is more important than talking
As we struggle to find the right words, it is easy to forget that talking is much less important than listening. Let your friend do most of the talking and do not be afraid of silences. Using open questions is a good starting point and try to resist the temptation to interrupt them.
8. Bereaved people sometimes want to talk about normal things too
Even when they are at the height of their grief, many people sometimes want to talk about normal, mundane things. So, if they ask about what is going on in your life or just want to chat about the weather, take their lead. You are still being a supportive friend by spending time with them and focusing on something else may give them some temporary relief.
9. See your friend as you always have
People often become nervous about speaking to someone who has been bereaved. Even if a very close friend has lost someone, you may suddenly feel tongue tied and not know how to behave around them. The key is to try to remember they are the same person they have always been.
10. Try to remember birthdays and anniversaries, as time goes on
As the months and years go by, remember that grief can hit people especially hard on significant dates. The birthday of someone who has passed away, a wedding anniversary or the anniversary of a death, can all be difficult days. Make a diary note of these dates so you can offer any support when they come around again.
Juliette Taylor specialist at Coodes Solicitors, can be contacted on 0800 328 3282 or email@example.com