There are no words! There are no words which will fix the situation or take away your friends devastating grief. The most important thing you can do is to be there. Go to the visitation and the funeral. Your presence is the most important gift you can give your friend. Too often in difficult situations like this one, we find excuses why we can’t go. Mainly, we don’t want to go because it is difficult and we don’t know what to say or do.
Not too long ago, my nephew told me about some dear friends whose son had died from an overdose of drugs. When he went to the funeral home, he went up to Angie, the mother, and said, “Angie, I don’t know what to say. I am just so sorry.” Angie replied, “That is all you can say, Larry.” Then Larry said, “We hugged and cried.”
When I find myself in this situation, I often say (from the heart), “I can’t even imagine how much you must hurt (or how lonely you must feel or how devastated you must be).”
Avoid using language that implies the person who died by suicide was to blame. It is hurtful to say, “killed himself,” “ended his life,” or “took his life.” The emphasis should instead be focused on grieving the death of a special person.
When talking with your friend and the family of the deceased, don’t be afraid to talk about his death, just as you would normally talk about the death of any friend. Don’t be afraid to mention the loved one’s name and to recall pleasant memories you shared with the deceased.
The following is helpful advice from Hospice, and it applies to many situations, not just deaths by suicide.
Comments to avoid when comforting the bereaved:
- “I know how you feel.” One can never know how another may feel. You could, instead, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels.
- “It’s part of God’s plan.” This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, “What plan? Nobody told me about any plan.”
- “Look at what you have to be thankful for.” They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.
- “He’s in a better place now.” The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.
- “This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.” Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with life because they feel this means “forgetting” their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.
- Statements that begin with “You should” or “You will.” These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about. . .” or “You might. . .
Listen to the podcast, What to say in a funeral line, for more advice on this topic.
For wise words about caring for the bereaved, let us consider the author James R. Kok. Kok was director of pastoral care at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. He is the author of the book 90% of Caring is Just Showing Up, and writes, “The Christian community should hold the franchise on Christ-like-care giving, but this is a task universally avoided. Jesus died for us. We die for others when we vacate our comfort zones, the places where we are in control, and stand closer to the heartbroken. We may feel helpless, weak and tongue-tied, but we will know that we are partners in doing the right thing. Just be there!”