So you have a friend who has just experienced the death of a loved one. A family member, a friend, a pet. Doesn’t matter. They are affected and you are not sure what to say. First, just remember, everyone is different. So there is no right or wrong answer. I’ve seen a few articles on this and some I agree with and some I don’t agree with. Those that I don’t agree with, some of my friends totally agree with. Soooo….that being said…..here’s a few ideas to help you out.
K.I.I.S. – Keep it simple stupid
Don’t assume that you know what they need. But feel free to offer options.
Hey, wanna go for a drink?
Do you need help with anything?
I thought I might come over and watch movies with you.
People who are emotionally distraught do not need someone telling them what they need or what to do – “You need to get out.” “You should take a break.” “You need to eat.”
It will happen. Just leave it alone.
Don’t ask how they are doing
That is the first question everyone wants to ask. Some will say, it’s OK to ask that. But since it’s the first thing out of everyone’s mouth, the person has already probably answered it a million times. Plus, what are they supposed to say? You’ll either get a canned response like, “I’m fine.” or you’ll get an angry answer, “How do you think?”. The probably will not open up to you from that question.
Instead, be prepare to ask something else. Open your conversation with one of the KIIS questions. Or talk about yourself. Try one of the following:
I heard about what happened. Just wanted to let you know that I’m here and if you want to hang out or if you need anything, just let me know.
I heard about X. I’m really sorry to hear that. I know X was a big part of your life. I was just remembering the time we all went to the beach and …..
A story about the person is probably one of the best things you can give them at that time. And it’s one of the easiest ways to approach the person. So use it if you’ve got it.
Or ask about what is happening.
I heard about X. Do you guys have a funeral planned? Do you need any help with that? Are all the family members able to come? Where are they staying?
They will appreciate a real conversation, even if they don’t feel like talking. If you keep away from the automatic, “How are you?”, you can at least give the person a mind-numbing and possibly even a distracting conversation for a few minutes, which may be a huge gain for them at that point.
Don’t call if you can’t handle it
If you can’t handle the call without saying something stupid, send a message (text, email, whatever). Examples:
Thinking of you.
Or send a photo. It can be of the deceased or just you and your affected friend.
The gesture will be appreciated. You may not get a response. But something so simple will often go so much further than an effort that goes awry.
Flowers kinda suck. They die. Quickly. Do you really want to remind this person of death? Remember, it’s the thought that counts. So think harder. People often don’t eat after the death of a loved one. So if you are going to buy them food, buy them something that is effortless to eat. They are not going to indulge in some noodles. Anything that requires an effort, probably isn’t going to happen. Get them health muffins. Or something similar that they can pick at (in a mindless way), will fill them up, and will provide some type of meal (even if they only get in a few bites). Do not buy anything acidic as they may already have an upset stomach and do not buy anything that rots too quickly as they may not be eating much at first.
Other gifts may be photos or similar trinkets that will remind the person of the deceased or of your friendship and that you are thinking of them.
Again, everyone is different but hopefully these suggestions will help you to avoid the most common problems people have in communicating with devastated friends.