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How to Communicate With a Grieving Person


How to Communicate With a Grieving Person

Life is a series of births and deaths.  From death to rebirth and renewal – sometimes in unexpected ways.

A couple of years ago, I read a great article on how to talk to a grieving person. 

Most powerful and memorable for me was the advice to use the phrase, “How is it going?” rather than the standard, “How are you?” 

Being about a couple of months from the passing of my dear soul mate and husband, I count that tip as golden communication advice. Actually, it is a wonderful tip for a greeting when talking to anyone going through difficulties. 

The rationale for the change from the standard, “How are you?” is that a person in grief will have recurring “down” times when they are feeling low. In fact experts say that about a year out from the death of a loved one is the most difficult time. That’s because the bereaved person is experiencing all the memories of the beloved for the first time with all the changes in seasons, holidays, and meaningful events. And the grieving person is moving into a new life, with lots of challenges. Remarkable how small challenges can feel like big. For example, meeting the challenge of putting air into a “soft” tire – a task the spouse had taken care of or guided her through for years.

Why use the greeting, “How is it going” ? It allows the other person not to be specific about emotions right at that moment. AND not to have to lie. Standard response in the culture of the United States is to say “Fine.” We all LIKE to be fine. But the grieving person may not be fine at that moment. Or wasn’t fine a few minutes ago. Or won’t be fine a little later. However, the grieving person is very likely to want to connect in that moment with you. 

By asking “How is it going?” you allow grieving persons options for responding with grace and courage. For example, they can say “It is going fine,” and be truthful, even if they don’t feel emotionally all that great. Then they can move forward with the communication and task at hand.

 Relatedly, here is my personal favorite response in hard times, which I got from my nephew. Joe asked “How are you?” when my husband was in the intensive care unit of the hospital. Then Joe said, “That’s a stupid question! Of course, you are just hanging in there.”  

So, if I am in one of those difficult moments, I can say “hanging in there” then move directly into connectedness, relationship and the topic or task at hand. Yes, being present in the moment is soothing to the heart and spirit. 

Other times, I have said, “Hanging in there. I am fine.” That tells me and the other person that I am walking forward, and I really am fine. Ah, the miracle of life and resilience, of healing and love and spirit.

Don’t you love the power of words to connect one human being to another?

Now for some speech pronunciation help with the video speech tip below.

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