Don't say . . . "I know how you feel." First of all, this could be a lie. If you've never experienced the death of a close family member or good friend, then it's quite impossible to know how a griever feels. Secondly, the statement takes the focus away from the person grief and toward yourself.
Do say . . . "I can't imagine how this feels but I realize it hurts and I want to be helpful." This validates the person's feelings. Of course, if you have had a significant person in life die, then you can say "I know how you feel" but back it up by adding a brief explanation - "My partner died three years ago" or "My son was killed in an auto accident last year."
Don't say . . . "It was God's will." Rev. William Sloan Coffin offers this insight: " The one thing that should never be said when someone dies is 'It is the will of God.' Never do we know enough to say that.'
Do say . . . "I am including you in my prayers" or "You will be in my thoughts." These are more general but still supportive spiritual statements.
Don't say . . . "Be strong" or "Cheer up" or "Don't cry". These comments don't fit reality for someone grieving because they feel wounded, sad and in a type of sorrow that naturally causes tears.
Do Say . . . "It's Ok to cry" or "It's only natural you are sad". Again, this validates the person's experience as well as giving permission to grieve honestly.
Don't say . . . "Talking about it will only make it worse" or "Let's no dwell on that." This effectively shuts down a person at a time when they most need to express their loss and explore the feelings which are emerging from it.
Do say . . . "Any time you want to talk, call, text or email me" or "You can talk to me about your daughter anytime you want - in one week, one year, five years, ten years". Now the griever knows you currently available as well as there for the long haul.
Don't say . . . "How are you?" or "How are you doing?" Obviously, the right answer is "not good." Furthermore, those questions merely elicit trite responses such as "OK," "Fine," or even "Great". The reality is most grievers would like to be more honest - "I'm terrible," "I feel like I'm falling apart" - but they won't do that because they don't want to overwhelm others.
Do say . . . "How does the loss feel today?" "What's been especially hard for you this week?" "What has been in your mind the last few hours or days?" Questions such as these permit and prompt the person to respond with specific details about their grief journey.
Don't say . . . "Let me know if I can do anything." While the intention is positive, the offer is too vague and most grievers will not follow up beyond saying "Ok, Thank you."
Do say . . . "Would you like me to come by and mow your lawn this week?" or "May I bring by an evening meal one night?" or "If you're up for a walk, I can pick you up this weekend and we can walk together." Specific offers of targeted support is always appreciated.
Finally, be the type of friend to a grieving person that Greek philosopher Euripedes described when he said: "One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”
(feel free to re-post and/or link to your social media)