We talk a lot about what you should and shouldn’t say to someone who is grieving. It’s hard to know how an ordinary question could get under the skin of someone who is grieving. For example, a question so simple as, “How are you doing?” has deeper implications than you probably realize.

Let Them Off the Hook

Asking someone who has just lost a loved one, “How are you doing?” gives the person two options: They can either lie and say they’re doing fine, or they can sit and explain to you how hard it has been since their loved one died. Plus, chances are, you’re not the first person to ask that exact question that day. Although you may truly care about how they are doing, it’s best not to come out and ask that question by default. If you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time with them, chances are they’ll tell you how they’re doing as the conversation goes on. If they don’t offer up that information, that’s because they don’t feel like talking about it right now. Respect their wishes and be sensitive to their needs during this very hard time.

The Alternative

Many of us are used to asking people “How are you doing?” as a form of greeting, regardless of whether or not they are grieving the loss of a loved one. We tend to say it out of habit sometimes without even realizing it. Try out one of these greetings when you meet up with someone you know is grieving instead:

  • Give them a hug
  • Tell them you’re thinking about them
  • Tell them you’ve been praying for them
  • Invite them to coffee

These greetings let the person know that you understand they are going through a hard time without forcing them to talk about it if they don’t want to. They are also very comforting. A person can never be on the receiving end of too many hugs or too many prayers.

The innocent question “How are you doing?” takes on a whole different meaning when you’re asking someone who is clearly not doing very well. Some people may want to talk about their grief, but chances are, those people will bring it up on their own without you asking. Find a different way to show your concern and give comfort to those who are grieving. Your loved one will find it refreshing and relieving that they don’t have to explain their state of grief and suffering one more time.

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