What Do You Say To Someone Who’s Lost A Loved One?

We talked about losing a favorite boss last week and a reader asked: I know this last article was about a favorite boss taking a new job elsewhere, but what do you do when it’s more serious than that? What do you do or say to someone who’s lost a loved one?

I’m not a psychologist, and I don’t even play one on TV, so I won’t pretend to know something I don’t about the emotions and psychological state of one in mourning. What I will say is this: in my experience and learning, surprisingly, one of the worst things you can say are those instinctual words: “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” And, I believe, it has a lot to do with what we’ve been discussing in these recent blogs: the power of choice and being conscious of what you are looking for.

When we don’t know what to say and we simply offer “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” we have placed the burden of choice and decision making on them to figure out how you can help. It puts you in a passive, at mercy, role, and the grieving person in the decision making, problem solving, active role; and that’s the last thing you likely intend to do.

Instead, be specific. Say what you can and are willing to do to help. Offer to cook a meal every week, mow their lawn every Saturday like their spouse did, drive their kids to school, grocery shop…whatever it is, offer that. In specifics. Then they don’t have to feel like they are burdening you by asking for help, or feeling pressure to think about the kind of help they need. All they have to do is accept it. And that is a real gift.