When Words Fail: What to Say to a Hurting Friend

If there is one thing that unites us all, it’s that at some point, either we’ll have to say goodbye to someone we love, or we will care about someone who must walk that path. When that moment comes, it can be difficult to know what to say, but it’s important to make sure your friend or family member knows they’re not alone and you’re always there for them.

At Nalley-Pickle & Welch, our staff in Midland and Big Spring work closely with families when they’re in the early days and weeks of grief. We’re there when they’re just beginning to grapple with the reality of what’s happened and trying to make important decisions about the funeral and beyond. We also see them interact with people before, during, and after a service, visitation, or reception. We have seen, firsthand, things said that help – and things said that hurt.

With the pressure on to not cause your friend more pain, what do you say when you don’t know what to say? Here are a few ideas based on what we’ve seen offer healing to families:

1.) Something simple.

It might feel cliché to say something like “I love you” or “You are in my thoughts,” but it’s not. If you can’t think of anything else to say, these simple expressions of love and support are better than avoidance.

2.) Say nothing at all.

Sometimes it’s enough just to be present with a hurting person. Communicate your feelings with a touch or a hug. Let them direct the conversation. They might want to comment on the weather, or the traffic, or the food. They might want to tell you something funny their child or grandchild said. It’s okay. It may feel strange to you, but for a moment, they might want to just focus on something other than their loss. They want to feel like some things are still normal. Allow them to do that.

3.) Give them permission to NOT talk.

In the moments and days after a loss, it’s not uncommon for dozens of people to come to the bereaved person’s home – all well-meaning people who want to offer their love and condolences. But between the visitors and the stress and strain of grief, quiet support might be welcome. We’ve heard stories of people leaving casseroles on front steps – and sending a quick text message to tell the friend it’s there. Others will come over and entertain young children so mom or dad can catch a nap or maybe go for a walk, alone.

4.) Invite them to communicate.

Many people – especially after a funeral is over – will be hesitant to bring up their loved one. They might worry about bringing other people down. But underneath that hesitation, there could be a real fear their loved one will be forgotten. They also might enjoy the opportunity to reminisce with others about the good times. A simple phrase indicating you’re remembering with them might be the open door to communication they need to walk through.

Even for those who seem to always think of something to say, in times of crisis, words can fail. But there is always a way to extend love and support.

If you’re in a time of grief and you need help, know that at Nalley-Pickle & Welch, we are here to help you long after the funeral is over. Connect with our aftercare resources, or contact us any time to get the help you need to heal.