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September 27, 2011

Listen with compassion

Almost everyone worries about what to say to people who are grieving. But knowing how to listen is much more important. Oftentimes, well-meaning people avoid talking about the death or mentioning the deceased person. However, the bereaved need to feel that their loss is acknowledged, it’s not too terrible to talk about, and their loved one won’t be forgotten.
While you should never try to force someone to open up, it’s important to let the bereaved know they have permission to talk about the loss. Talk candidly about the person who died and don’t steer away from the subject if the deceased’s name comes up. When it seems appropriate, ask sensitive questions – without being nosy – that invite the grieving person to openly express his or her feelings. Try simply asking, “Do you feel like talking?”
Accept and acknowledge all feelings. Let the grieving person know that it’s okay to cry in front of you, to get angry, or to break down. Don’t try to reason with them over how they should or shouldn’t feel. The bereaved should feel free to express their feelings, without fear of judgment, argument, or criticism.
Be willing to sit in silence. Don’t press if the grieving person doesn’t feel like talking. You can offer comfort and support with your silent presence. If you can’t think of something to say, just offer eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died. People who are grieving may need to tell the story over and over again, sometimes in minute detail. Be patient. Repeating the story is a way of processing and accepting the death. With each retelling, the pain lessens.
Offer comfort and reassurance without minimizing the loss. Tell the bereaved that what they’re feeling is okay. If you’ve gone through a similar loss, share your own experience if you think it would help. However, don’t give unsolicited advice, claim to “know” what the person is feeling, or compare your grief to theirs.


  1. I stumbledopon this today, I just foynd iut this morning that my father had died, thank you for posting

  2. You are Very Welcomed... My Dad died in November 22, 2008... I Believe I have a post about him around that time...

  3. everything you said is absolutely accurate. my mom died in sept of 08 and my dad just passed away in may of this year. may i please copy and paste this onto my fb?

    thank you so much for this post.

  4. Peg,is my best friend. I've known her since grade school. We have been like sisters for about 35 years. We were unseperatable as children and some say we still are today. Maybe we were drawn to each other because I was an only child or maybe because our parents were struggling with their marriages and we had a ruff time listening to them argue. The two of us would play in the open field across from my house while we escaped the stresses of our family life. Nevertheless and no matter why we have always cared for each other and I believe that God has put us together for a reason. I read your column, "Listen With Compassion" and thought it couldn't have come along at a better time. Peg has recently lost both of her parents with in a month apart of each other . John and Judy's deaths were unexpected and peg never thought that both of her parents would be gone when she was only 43. Peg has been extremely distraught. I have been extremely worried about her so I thank you for this article because in reading it I have learned some techniques on how to be the best possible friend I can be. I ask from each one of you who reads this to please hold Peg up in your prayers. Ask the Lord to comfort her and give her guidance. Bless you all, Sincely Peg's best friend, Aimy

  5. Peg is my best friend and has been since the fourth grade. We have been unseperatable as children and some say we still are today. I don't know why we have always been so close. Maybe it's because I was an only child or maybe it's because our parents were going through a ruff time in their marriages and we needed each other to escape the arguing. As young girls we would run and play in the field across from my house and leave the family stress behind. Nevertheless and no matter why but I truly believe that it was all in Gods plan. I believe Gods put each of us in each others life because he new we needed each other. I just want to thank you for the article,"Listen With Compassion." I couldn't have read it at a better time. See Peg has just resonantly lost her parents. Each with in a couple months of each other. Their deaths were very unexpected and Peg never thought she would have lost both of her parents when she was only 43. Your words have taught me some techniques so that I can be the best possible friend to Peg in her time of grief. I ask that each one of you who reads this to please hold Peg up in your prayers. Pray that the Lord gives her comfort and guides her through life. Thanks and God Bless, Sincerely Peg's best friend, Aimy

  6. Christina & Aimy, May you both be blessed with kindness, comfort, hope, & tons of love... Losing a loved one is a rough time for everyone, some more so than others... But what we need to remember is that when someone experienced the death of a loved one, this may be the HARDEST thing THEY have EVER experienced... Even if that death is a pet, it may be the hardest thing they've ever dealt with, so give everyone encouragement & Love & Support...

  7. Came across this tonight, actually while looking for something else entirely. Then saw your blog post & thought it kinda fit:

    By Terry Kettering

    There’s an elephant in the room.
    It is large and squatting,
    so it is hard to get around it.

    Yet we squeeze by with,
    “How are you?” and, “I’m fine,”
    and a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.

    We talk about the weather;
    we talk about work;
    we talk about everything else—
    except the elephant in the room.

    There’s an elephant in the room.
    We all know it is there.
    We are thinking about the elephant
    as we talk together.

    It is constantly on our minds.
    For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
    It has hurt us all, but we do not talk about
    the elephant in the room.

    Oh, please, say her name.
    Oh, please, say “Barbara” again.
    Oh, please, let’s talk about
    the elephant in the room.

    For if we talk about her death,
    perhaps we can talk about her life.
    Can I say, “Barbara” to you
    and not have you look away?
    For if I cannot,
    then you are leaving me alone
    in a room—with an elephant.
    Of course, the name "Barbara" could be changed to fit anyone's situation. For me, not too long ago, it would've been "Mom".

  8. Just to say I have that Elephant poem already posted...

  9. I just came across your blog. Thank you for writing this piece.

    Losing our first baby (some people say "pregnancy", "Fetus")was a life altering experience and very close to me still, despite God blessing us with two more beautiful children. Perhaps in order to minimize and not "hurt me" more, some people would speak to the fact that I had not yet met my baby as a plus, as though I didn't know my baby in utero and have hopes and dreams for that little one as part of our family. Anyhow, thanks again.
    -Cat www.feelgoodmommy.blogspot.com/


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