At my wife Jean’s funeral, a long-time family friend who lost her mother three years ago, walked up to my daughter Tracy and said, “I know there is nothing I can say.”
That friend was so wise. She had been through it. She knew that well-meaning people have a great deal of difficulty saying the right thing to grieving family members. The grieving party simply wants to know you care. The last thing they want is advice, spiritual observations or explanations of why this horrible, terrible thing happened.
Death is so inexplicable, so profound and so disturbing for everyone that words become very complicated and fraught with danger. Some people are tempted to withdraw and avoid confronting the bereaved. That’s the wrong answer too.
I have found that a simple “I am very sorry,” is the most comforting thing I can hear. The people who run the risk of getting kicked in the shins are the nice folks who tell me how I feel. I have been told “you must be so devastated right now.” I am tempted to respond, “Actually I have been pretty good for the last hour, but you just screwed that up.”
Please don’t try to make yourself feel better by telling me what I am going through. You simply can’t imagine what it feels like. I knew in the last two weeks that Jean was going to die. Yet, I can honestly say I never imagined the reality of “dead.” It is simply overwhelming.
Without question the grieving party is carrying a lot of baggage from coping with that sudden reality, but the most sympathetic approach is to understand that baggage and simply express sorrow.