I recently (unexpectedly) lost my father. In the wake of this awful, traumatic event I learned that people will say the craziest things to you; mostly because they don't know what to say or haven't experienced something like this 1st hand. Now that I've been on the other side, here is a how-to guide:
  1. DO: tell them that you love them, and if they need anything, you'll be there.
    Seriously, this is the best thing you can say when there's nothing really that can be said.
  2. DON'T: say "everything happens for a reason."
    This has to be the least helpful statement ever, b/c you're basically saying there's a reason their loved one had to be taken & right now it feels incredibly senseless, as does the nonsense coming out of your mouth.
  3. DO: say that you are sorry for their loss.
  4. DON'T: ramble on incessantly about how much their loss has affected you.
    You won't believe the number of people that project their grief onto the family with virtually no regard for how much the person they are crying to is hurting. Believe me (random client of my father's), whatever YOU'RE going through, we're going through 1000-fold.
  5. DO: send donations if requested in lieu of flowers.
  6. DON'T: take it upon yourself to send, say the widow, a book on grieving.
    Let her navigate this the way she needs to. Trite book quotes feel insensitive when it's only been a week.
  7. DO: continue to check in on the survivors.
    If you're close, that is.
  8. DON'T: get all philosophical.
    Please, whatever religious or ideological beliefs you have, tread lightly if you don't know the bereaved's own stance on matters. If you don't know how they feel, best keep your opinions to yourself.
  9. DO: let THEM talk to YOU about it.
    One of the worst things is when you're finally functioning and going about your day and you see someone new and have to reopen the wound when you don't feel like it because they've pressed beyond the simple, "I'm so sorry." They may not want to talk to you in detail about it in that moment.
  10. DON'T: cling hug.
    People you hardly know will clasp on & not let you go. This is not nearly as comforting as you think. Space can be really good too.
  11. DO: take the survivors out for something fun.
  12. DON'T: ask the widow "How did it happen???"
    Surely there must be someone you else can ask. Especially at the wake. And given that it was printed in several publications. It was unbelievable the number of times people made the widow walk through finding him because they were curious. It actually got infuriating.
  13. There you have it. There are no magic words so just being there really is good enough. You don't have to impart any wisdom or guidance - just be available.