Please don’t say “I’m sorry for your loss”

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In this blog, Amy reflects on people’s reactions to loss, where sometimes just being present is better than saying anything. She draws on her own experiences of grieving for her Dad to give advice to others.

What to say?

How do you react when your friend has just found out that their loved one has a terminal illness or that a member of their family has passed away? Do you say?

“Just try to enjoy every moment you have left with them”

“Think positive, there may be hope yet”

“I’m sorry for your loss” 

Loss? I didn’t lose my Dad, he’s not an item I have misplaced, a rogue sock that hasn’t reappeared from the washing machine. He’s died. Gone. Period. 

To me, the ‘sorry for your loss’ reaction sounds empty, slightly meaningless, but that’s human nature. How are you supposed to react when the person in front of you is completely broken? When they’ve had their whole world ripped from underneath them and turned upside down? 

“You don’t need to say any words”

The simple fact is that you don’t need to say any words; you just need to be physically present, be reliable, be someone who they can call when sobbing in the middle of the night, be a person of light when the whole world around them feels dark. 

The morning my Dad died, before we had told anyone else, my friend sent me a simple message containing a love heart emoji, no words. I replied saying that my Dad had passed away. She was mortified for having text me at that moment but had just wanted to let me know that she was always thinking of me. I was so grateful, I knew from that little heart emoji that she was there for me whenever I needed her.

Being there

Grief is a strange thing, especially early on. You may see your friend one day and they will be a complete mess, sobbing on the floor uncontrollably, the next day they may be laughing and messing around, seemingly having a good time. This is normal. Just know that that person is not over their grief. The loss of a loved one is something they will carry with them forever, like a heavy weight chained to their ankle.  

When you check in on your friend, send them a funny meme, a lovely poem, a meaningful quote. Invite them out for lunch or coffee, if they want to talk, trust that they will. 

All they need from you is to actually be there for them, not just to say the words you think they need to hear. 

Amy Hardy