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Advice: What to say - and not say - to a friend who is recently bereaved

Running away and saying nothing at all is often the worst. But there are times to ‘show up and shut up’.

funeral Source: Shutterstock

WE’VE ALL BEEN in a situation where we wanted to say something supportive to a person who has recently been bereaved.

Many of us will have also avoided a bereaved person out of fear: Either not knowing what to say or worrying about putting our foot in it by saying the wrong thing.

There are many aspects of grief and bereavement that people feel uncomfortable with and shy away from. But we don’t have to run away from someone who has just lost a loved one – we’re actually quite good at coming up with the right words. And, sometimes, the worst thing to do is saying nothing at all.

Dr Susan Delaney is a clinical psychologist and the bereavement services manager with the Irish Hospice Foundation. She recently sat down with TheJournal.ie to discuss grief and give advice on how to support bereaved people.

She thinks the old-fashioned, ‘I’m sorry for your trouble’ is actually quite hard to improve on.

Source: Video TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Video: Órla Ryan/Aoife Barry

She says that the awkwardness people often feel when around someone who is recently bereaved “comes from a good place” because “we don’t want to make things worse for people”.

We’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing, but unfortunately what we all do out of our fear of saying the wrong thing … we say nothing and it leaves bereaved people feeling unsupported – and they do notice when you hop into a shop door to avoid them, or cross the street. Those are the hurtful things that people in bereavement talk about.

Susan says people should keep it simple and acknowledge the grief as this will let the person know you care.

So what about the worse things people can say? Susan thinks anything that starts with the phrase ‘At least’ should be banned or anything along the lines of ‘I know a fella who had it much worse…’

She also gives some practical advice for how you can support people, and why you sometimes need to just ‘show up and shut up’.

We’ll have more from our interview with Susan tomorrow. For more information on support available to bereaved people, visit bereaved.ie


Read: ‘Then everyone died’: I lost four people I loved in 14 months

Over the next five days, Last Rites will look at death and dying in Ireland in the same way that Irish people do: with sadness, celebration, sombreness, humour and irreverence. 

We will examine everything from awkward giggles at a funeral to not knowing what to say to a friend who has been bereaved when ‘sorry for your loss’ seems inadequate. If you have a story about your own experiences you’d like to share, please send a couple of sentences to News Editor Sinéad O’Carroll on sinead@thejournal.ie or reporter Órla Ryan on orla@thejournal.ie 

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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