As long as we remain on this earth, death is inevitable. If you’ve ever had to offer your condolence to the bereaved, then you probably know that in the face of indescribable grief it can be hard to decide on the right things to say and do. Here are a few tips gleaned from chats with Nigerians who have lost loved ones.
1. Words aren’t as important as your presence
Bunmi, who recently lost a nephew she had cared for since he was born, speaks from her experience and that of her sister, “Sometimes, not saying anything and just being there goes a long way and may even mean more than words.”
Mouzayian, by no means a stranger to death, having lost a father and several uncles, buttresses her advice, “It’s better if you are with them, and just BE there. Sometimes it’s best not to say anything.”
2. If you can’t be there, text instead of calling
A simple sincere condolence text message, followed by a call a little later, is better than just calling. Bunmi notes, “Don’t forget that everybody else would call or want to call too. So many people will call and because of the bereaved person’s state of mind at the time, she will find it hard to track and later might even struggle to remember who called and what they said. But a text message will always be there with its comforting words to serve as a continuous reminder. You can follow up with a call few days or weeks later.”
3. Whether you text or call, don’t say too much
One might imagine that many words are needed to convey deep commiseration. However, you’d be surprised that the opposite is the case. Edose, who lost her brother last year, says; “I’d rather send a message than call, but either way, ‘I’m really sorry about (name). I’m so, so sorry.’ That’s it.” As deeply affected as Clarence was by his mother’s death, he agrees, “Honestly, ’Please accept my condolence’ does the job just fine”. Timi recommends a simple, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Apparently, brevity has its benefits, especially considering that the more you say, the more likely you are to say something unwelcome, like…
4. I know how you feel
This phrase is a no-no; you DO NOT know how they feel. Even if you have suffered the loss of a loved one yourself, you are not this person and you cannot claim to know what this loss feels like. So it’s better to avoid it altogether than come across as insensitive. If you still feel the need to offer more, Mouzayian advises, “Just give the reassurance of your sympathy and support.” Edose suggests, “Depending on how close you are, you could add, ‘If there’s anything you need me to do, please just ask.’”
5. Offering Spiritual Support Can Help
Tragedy and loss have been known to trigger a need for spiritual succour even in people who weren’t previously spiritually inclined. American media widely reported the spike in church attendance after the 9/11 attacks, even if only short-term. While you may wish for a genuine commitment to faith on their part, the last thing a bereaved person needs is to be preached at. Mouzayian suggests simply saying, “I heard, I’m thinking of you and praying for you.”
There you have it. Have you had to deal with the loss of a loved one? What words and actions did you find most comforting? Please leave your comment below; we’d love to hear from you.