Those professionals with a social worker degree who work with clients that are experiencing grief and loss issues, report some of the comments that seemed most insensitive when spoken to their bereaved clients, and others going through the pain of a death- yet, for some reason, seem to be the words that come out of the well-intended mouth most frequently. Even those in positions of authority or expertise can put their foot in their mouth when addressing someone regarding the topic of death or dying.
Dealing with loss and supporting those coping with such life changes is difficult. There are many opportunities for qualified and empathetic social workers holding certifications and degrees to work in such capacities as grief counselors, geriatric social workers, hospice therapists, and bereavement workers in area nursing facilities or funeral homes. Helping others alleviate their own pain, as well as to support others by example, is the most valuable gift that a social worker can give to the community served.
While there is not a script or list of the “right” things to say to someone reeling from a death or loss, there are some definite things that one should not say if at all possible, according to social work professionals working with clients experiencing grief and loss issues. It seems that so often awkwardness and anxiety prevail in these situations, making well-meaning comments seem offensive or less than compassionate. Furthermore, most consumers noted that the most helpful thing that an attendant at a funeral or memorial could offer was simply, “I’m sorry”. Other suggestions from social workers include:
“I know how you feel”. This sentiment not only minimizes the pain of those it is spoken to, but also implies that the speaker has suffered the same, exact type of loss as the mourner. Nobody experiences pain the same way, and all loss is different. Validate the mourner’s experience and don’t make it all about you.
“How are you?” This question is often an instinctual response to seeing familiar faces or encountering an awkward situation. Don’t ask how they are; assume that they are grieving and very sad. Offer condolences instead. A bereavement social worker also suggests when words seem to escape those paying their respects, simply being there and sitting quietly can be very supportive and encouraging to those coping with the death more personally.