Talking to someone experiencing loss, grief, or other tragedy is not easy for most. Saying the wrong things seems to come naturally, masked as good intention. Here are some guidelines:
1) Your experience is not the same as their’s. Trying to make a comparison is often not comforting. It strips the validity of what someone is feeling. If part of your discussion leads to “I know it’s not the same but when x happened to me…” Just stop there.
2) If you do not know what to say, just say that you are sorry, the person is in your thoughts, and ask if you can be of help.
3) If you know the person well enough, come up with specific things you know they might need help with.
4) Do not say things like “this is God’s plan,” “your faith will get you through” etc. if you don’t know exactly how this person expresses religious beliefs, these things can be isolating. If the tragedy is big enough, it likely rocked the foundation of whatever beliefs they held.
5) Help the person see the value in talking about what they have experienced. This includes encouraging professional help and removing that stigma.
6) Never judge someone’s personal process of grief.
7) Never tell someone it’s time to move on or that they will feel better in x number of days, weeks, months.
8) If you quote the stages of grief and tell a person where they will be in that process next, you should be slapped.
9) Don’t be afraid to intervene in self destructive behavior. A true friend will make the tough calls.
10) If nothing else respect a person’s desire to be alone, or don’t be afraid to sit with them quietly in a room. Sometimes just knowing a friend is near is all someon needs.