In many other cultures, especially those of indigenous peoples, death and grief is a collective experience. It is an experience that is universally painful, but in those cultures, it is so much more shared and accepted. Yet, in our individualistic, western culture, we often are at a loss for how to respond to a grieving friend or loved one. All too often we can resort to well-intentioned, but ultimately glib, unhelpful, or even downright insensitive statements.
Here are just a few guidelines for how to avoid some pitfalls and respond in a way that may be more well received:
- Instead of offering to be there “if they need anything,” assess their actual needs and offer to help in specific and practical ways. This can often be the best way to give someone the space to experience loss or grieve while knowing they are cared for through those specific acts of service.
- Do not be too quick to dispense advice about how to grieve or offer your own experience with grieving. Initially they likely just need someone who will listen, or even just sit with them in their pain.
- Do not try to distract them from their loss by pointing out the good things they have to celebrate or be thankful for. This can come across as insensitivity to their pain. Instead, acknowledge the hurt they feel but do not try to “fix” the hurt.
These situations are rarely easy and typically require discernment to walk through them well. But also remember to give yourself some grace because you are not supposed to know what to say or do and your friend or loved one likely does not expect that of you!
-Cameron Butler, MA