A friend of ours died in a car accident recently and we’re not only at a loss for words, but we’re at a loss for the right words to say to his family and friends of the family. They have a child who is in school with one of our children and it has been difficult telling them what to say and what not to say. Please, give us some badly needed guidance.
-Anonymous, Newport, Rhode Island
Dear Anonymous,When in doubt as to what to say and what not to say it is advisable to say as little possible. The best thing to say is that you have been thinking about them. The worst thing to say is "How are you?" Obviously, they are not feeling great and you cannot take away the pain. They just lost their father or husband. Your feelings of helplessness shouldn't keep you from reaching out and encouraging your children to reach out to their friend. Don't underestimate the power of love. Words give us power, so let the adult or child find the right words. Most importantly, tell good memories. Children dealing with loss have many of the same feelings and needs as adults, but fewer resources and coping skills to deal with their feelings. Any way to ease the pain of mourning is welcome. We all mourn in our own way and in our own time, and have individual patterns and outlets for grief. Sometimes it is best to say nothing and just be with the person, or give a big hug instead of saying anything. If you have a favorite memory of the deceased, share it. Or simply say: 'I am sorry for your loss,' 'I wish I had the right words, please, know that I care about you and your children,' 'I can't say that I know how you feel, but I'm here to help any way I can.' It would be insensitive to ask for details about the accident, such as, 'Was he wearing a seatbelt?' You simply wouldn't ask a question like that. Someone will probably tell you, anyway. Or say things such as, 'He is in a better place,' or 'There is a reason for everything,' or never 'You're still young you can marry again,' or 'I know how you feel.' Stay clear of bringing in God and religion, because you never know, the survivor could be very angry at God right now. Let the widow know you're thinking about her and check up on her from time to time, because, after all, when the out-of-town family and friends have gone home and she is alone, your friend will need you most. When the children are back in school and she is alone with her pain -- and her memories. Let her know that she and her children are in your thoughts and prayers and that you're here to help.