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Difficult Moments

Proximity to death leaves many people tongue-tied. It can be extremely challenging to try to think of an appropriate thing to say to someone who is dying or grieving. Nevertheless, a kind word may go a long way to comfort someone who is hurting. The benefits most often outweigh the inconvenience and discomfort. While there is no need to go to great lengths to prepare a speech, there are some basic guidelines to help you comfort someone experiencing loss.

Conversing With the Dying

Florence Isaacs has written several books on how to express sympathy. She notes that one of the cloudier concepts today is what one means by "dying." People these days receive a great deal more medical care than in decades past. A terminal patient may have hours, days, weeks, months and even years before dying. One of the first rules, according to Isaacs, is to not ask the question, how are you? Instead, express a statement. Tell the person you are thinking of them. Touch can be very soothing. A gentle hug can say it all. Other things you can do to communicate in a meaningful way are:

  • Share a photo album. Revisit fond memories.
  • Ask about the person's life, and then listen.
  • If possible, get out and do something together. Just remember to adjust expectations for what may be doable.

The essential thing is to behave as you normally would with the person. Be your natural self.

What to Say to the Bereaved

Many well-intentioned people are struck dumb when it comes to expressing condolences. Indeed, sometimes the first impulse in a grief situation is to say something wildly inappropriate. The result is that oftentimes people avoid talking altogether, which denies the comfort other people might require in their time of need. Express sympathy for their loss it's simple and effective. Stay clear of statements that minimize or contradict someone's feelings. Do not presume to know how another person is feeling. Run away from cliché. It is rarely, if ever, comforting to hear that time heals all wounds, or that someone's loved one is now in a better place. Even if you think your comment is in accord with the griever's spiritual beliefs, be careful not to diminish the person's loss in the moment. Remember, too, to keep the focus off of yourself when speaking to someone who is grieving a loved one. While you might be tempted to share your experience, be sure it serves to help, and not to distract.

Offering Condolences

One of the great gifts you can offer the bereaved is your sympathy. Another is your presence. Whenever it is possible, go to the funeral or memorial service. Visit in the days or weeks after, and offer to take care of some household chore, if that seems appropriate. Do not be afraid of talking about the loved one who died. Better yet, be willing to listen. If you feel as though you have let too much time pass without expressing your condolences, remember: there is no expiration date on kindness. Send a note or make a phone call. Online memorial sites frequently stay active for long periods of time. You can post a sympathetic comment in a guest book long after a memorial service. Family and friends tend to visit such sites regularly, so your message is likely to find its way to the right person.

Showing Up for Each Other

Everyone has a story about how someone they know said the wrong thing at someone else's funeral. To err is human, as is the struggle to find words that would make a difficult situation less so. Sometimes there aren't any. The best thing you can do is to show up with an open and kind heart, and trust that your presence speaks volumes.

Category: Get Ordained Funeral

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