I’ve had three funerals since Thursday. I’ve had death and grieving on my mind. I know many people struggle with trying to find the right words to say to people who’ve lost someone.
We’re wired to want to help someone who feels bad, but sometimes words that are meant to help can sound differently to someone in pain. I’ve come up with a quick way for you to check yourself before you say something.
When Debbie passed away one of the best analogies I heard about losing a loved one was that it was like having a limb amputated. It’s gone, it’s not going to grow back, and you need to learn to live without it. That was in my mind as I was thinking about what to write in sympathy cards and I came up with this idea.
Pretend you’re talking to a person who has just had their leg amputated and substitute “your leg” for the name of the person who just died. If it doesn’t sound right, you might want to rethink what you’re going to say.
Here’s some samples of things that aren’t great. (It’s ok to laugh; they can sound silly.)
“It was quick, and your leg didn’t suffer.”
“At least your leg had a long and full life.”
“It was your leg’s time to go.”
“Your leg wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
“Be thankful for the time you had with your leg.”
And, my favorite, “You leg is in a better place.”
What are some better things to say? Express your concern and sympathy. Mention what their leg, oops sorry, the person who passed away meant to you. Recall a fond memory of them. Tell them you’re praying for them.
The worst thing you can say is nothing. Do not let your fear of saying the wrong thing get in the way of acknowledging someone’s pain. You may not have the magic words to say to take away their suffering, but knowing they’re not alone helps.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.