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How to Help People in Grief

The One Thing You Should Say to Someone Who Is Grieving

Life is full of heartache. And when someone we love is dealing with it, it can be tough to figure out how to help. What words will offer the comfort and support you so much want to give? In a moving and eloquent essay posted on Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg shared the lessons she's learned since the sudden death of her husband one month ago. It's a beautiful piece filled with honest and tragic reflections about the loss of a spouse and parenting after the death of a parent. What stood out to many was the valuable and actionable advice for helping friends and family going through a difficult time.

"I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was "It is going to be okay." That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, "You and your children will find happiness again," my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, "You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good" comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple "How are you?"—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with "How are you today?" When I am asked "How are you?" I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear "How are you today?" I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

How generous of Sheryl to share this wise and emotional insight with all of us.

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