You heard through a mutual acquaintance that a friend’s husband died last week. Although you want to reach out and be supportive, you hesitate to pick up the phone. Will you be able to say the right things and give your friend the kind of emotional support she genuinely wants and needs?
Whether calling friends or family members who have recently lost a loved one, most people say their first words are: “Hi, how are you?” That’s not surprising, since it has become the standard greeting in the United States. However, the grieving people I work with in support groups tell me they hate that question, for three reasons:
For all these reasons, if you want to truly support friends and family who are dealing with grief, it is not a good question to ask. Instead, ask other questions that invite your friend to talk about her experience honestly, and be willing to listen to the answer.
Sometimes we are reticent to ask a question, fearing that we are intruding into someone else’s personal life. Remember, though, that naming the reality is refreshing because so many others avoid the topic like the plague. Also, many grieving people are aching to talk because so few would-be comforters are genuinely willing to listen. You can’t go wrong by asking a good question, as long as you then follow your friend’s lead. People will let you know if they don’t want to talk, so then you move on to other things. In the majority of cases, though, you will likely find that they jump right in and begin to tell their story. It is healing for them to hear the words coming out of their own mouths, helps them make sense of it, and creates a bond of trust between you.
Start by asking open-ended question such as:
Asking these kinds of open-ended questions lets your friend know you “get her” and unlike so many others, you care enough to listen to the truth. It’s a very simple way to be truly helpful and supportive to someone you care about, especially as she goes through one of the toughest times of her life.
Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com