Nonsensical and sometimes not-so-nonsensical rants about what may or may not be going through my head. Try to liberalize your canvas of interpretation when reading these posts - you will go far...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The art of sympathy

I absolutely deplore physical contact – by that I allude to any form of touching (including hugs, brushing past, patting on the back, a peck on the cheek) by any person I am not comfortable with or to whom I don’t consent doing so. I feel this paranoia largely stems from my childhood; on my mother’s death, long-lost relatives, never-seen-before friends and nothing short of complete strangers felt the compulsion to smother me to their chests and let out heart wrenching wails. For someone who never was too comfortable even shaking hands with unknown people, this unnecessary show of physical affection was enough to make me cringe.

I understand its not easy comforting those who grieve the death of a loved one. Many people are immobilized out of fear they'll do or say the wrong thing. Obviously, there is no one dramatic gesture or pearl of wisdom that will dissolve the heartache, but there are many acts of thoughtfulness that can convey your concern and help to soften the blow that a friend or loved one has suffered.

How exactly can you comfort someone grieving the death of a loved one? What can you say that might adequately offer solace? A mere "I'm sorry" doesn't quite seem to cut it. So what is the right way to comfort someone who is grieving? Here are some suggestions, culled from grief experts and people who have lost a loved one:


- Say something simple. "I am sorry to hear the news" will suffice at first. Then, on an ongoing basis, "I am thinking of you."

- Don't ask, "What happened?" You are making the bereaved person re-live pain.

- Don't launch into a detailed account of your loss of a loved one. Give them just enough to let them know that you can relate to their pain.

- Avoid clich├ęs. That includes, "Good things come from bad," "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "He/she's at peace now."

- Don't claim to know how the grieving person feels. You don't. Don't suggest that the mourner "move on." It would be more appropriate to say something along the lines of, "I can only imagine what you are going through."

- Keep your religious beliefs to yourself unless you are sure that the person you are trying to comfort shares them. (It’s okay simply to say that you will keep the family in your prayers.)

- Whatever you do, please don’t intrude in their personal space. Give them time to come to terms with their loss.

- Avoid unnecessary physical contact. A simple pat on the back or a quick hug will suffice.


- Don't launch into a long eulogy on the deceased. Saying things like, "he/she was such a good person. So compassionate and kind to the poor..." only makes the grieving person realize his loss a little more.

The death of a loved one is a devastating emotional loss. But a sincere expression of caring - and sharing - can help us to turn the grief of futility and despair into the grief of faith and hope and release.