This is so difficult for everyone. What do you say to someone when they just lost a beloved pet or someone they loved? What do you not say? When do you say it? What do you do?
Most of us are afraid of death because it’s final. There are no second or third chances. That’s what makes life so precious. Until you’ve experienced the death of a beloved pet or human family member or friend, you do not realize how short life really is. Death gives us perspective on the value of life, and how to fully live your life.
When it comes to consoling someone who has experienced a loss, we do not know what to say or do, because we are scared. If we are not scared, then words and actions flow easier to us. Getting over the fear of death is not something I can help you with over a blog. That’s a deeper conversation we can have in a one-on-one session.
In the meantime, I am going to break down ways you can help someone who is going through a hard time. I am dividing this up by main tips, wording, medium, and sex/demographics. These tips come from my own experiences, education, and knowledge.
Honestly, I wished some of my friends said and did some of these things, but I understand not everyone knows how to be there for someone during tough times.
Listen. This is the time to listen. That is the #1 way to be there for someone who is in pain. Listen to what they have to say, and listen to their story.
Practice empathy. Try putting yourself in their shoes. For some, this is easy to do, for others, it’s hard to imagine yourself in their shoes especially if you haven’t experienced what they have experienced. But you can still show compassion and kindness.
Have patience. Loss is a big deal for everyone, and it’s not on your timeline, it’s on theirs.
Follow up. Reach back out to them in a few days, and weeks, (and months depending on how close you are to them). As mentioned, loss takes a toll on us, and affects us in various ways, sometimes lasting for weeks to months, to years. Checking back in to say “How are you doing?” can be the sweetest words the person you care about hears on a random day, weeks or months away, when they may be still going through a tough time.
Sometimes action is better than words. Bring them a meal, send them a card, make a donation in honor of their beloved pet (or family member or friend), send them a thoughtful gift.
Words you can say…
“I am sorry to hear about your loss. I know this must be a hard time for you. I wanted to let you know I am thinking of you.”
“I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Whenever you are ready. I am here for you.”
When they are ready to talk, ask them about their pet or loved one…”Tell me about xxx. What are your favorite memories?”
This is totally acceptable- “I am not sure what to do or say right now. But I care about you and sorry to hear about your loss.” (your effort counts and showing them vulnerability helps them to see you care)
“If there is anything I can do to help, let me know.” DO NOT SAY THIS IF YOU DO NOT MEAN IT. Empty promises are hurtful and not helpful.
Medium- How you reach out in this modern age
As connected as we all are these days, we aren’t. Texting gives us a false sense of connection to our friends and family. The communication is short-lived, not as personable, and the facial and body movements are non-existent so it’s easy to misunderstand someone’s intention or meaning behind their texts. That said, here are guidelines on how to communicate with someone who has gone through loss or trauma...
Text- it is okay to text “I’m sorry to hear about loss” if you are not super close to them. But if you are close to them, then call them. Do not just text.
Video calls- Hearing your voice and seeing your face can be comforting. It shows them you took time out of your day to connect with them. If you live far away, this is the best option.
In-person- Given the current COVID-19 situation we are in, this is not possible now. But if things change in the future, seeing your friend or family member in person to give them a hug for their loss is invaluable. This is the time to be there for them. Listen to what they have to say, hug them, bring them their favorite beverage- coffee, wine, etc. Show them you care.
Chilly passed away right before the quarantine began. I got several nice texts. But the meaningful gestures came from phone/video calls from close friends, in person flowers, and a donation in honor of Chilly. I was surprised by a few close friends who did hardly anything, while I was there for them when their dogs/cats had passed away. You learn who your true friends are during tough times. And you also learn how your friends handle difficult topics.
The difference between women and men when it comes to emotions is a topic in which I could dedicate a whole other blog post. Generally, women are more comfortable communicating their feelings over men. But that’s not always the case. You have to consider age, culture, and background- how they were raised, who was their main caretaker, etc. Emotional maturity is another topic I could share on another blog post that relates to this as well.
Males may respond differently than females, such as not wanting to talk about their loss. They may want more space and distance from the situation. Males tend to internalize their feelings as females externalize. But again, that is not the case for every male and every female. I’m being general here.
Children, teenagers, and young adults have not fully developed their emotional capacities (this is managed by the prefrontal cortex which does not fully develop until the mid-twenties). But that does not mean they do not understand death and loss, they are just processing it differently than adults. You do not want to go too deep into emotions, but listening and letting them know you are there for them is very helpful. This is the time that they need support from multiple sources, which helps to build their emotional maturity.
All in all, you want to be cognizant of the person you want to send your condolences to. The fact you are reading this shows you care and want to learn how to better communicate. That’s great.
When someone is grieving, they are focusing inward as they are dealing with vulnerable, deep emotions. They may take your busyness or silence as not caring when you do care. The biggest take away is for you to follow up and check in with “How are you doing?” days, weeks, and months later. Remember, death, loss, traumas, take a toll on us. And no one is going to be “ok” in the timely manner you expect them to be.
If you found this helpful, please share this with anyone else who may be struggling in this area.