Monday Morning Practice – What to say to the grieving

Written by Allison Wolf

I have grief on my mind.

The grief of French people.

And closer to home, the grief of two friends whose husbands both died last month.

Throughout my life I have struggled with this question: “What can I possibly say to someone whose life has been irrevocably changed through the death?”

This comes from knowing that words can’t change the situation. That grief and the powerful emotions that come with it cannot be healed with words.

There have been times I have said nothing out of fear of saying the wrong thing, or because of the seeming futility. And I regret this.

This month I had the opportunity to attend a training seminar with Master Coach Dixie St. John about end of life and grief support.

She answered my biggest question about grief: “What can I possibly say to someone who is grieving?”

Here’s what Dixie answered.

Say what you can say truthfully and from the heart.

Listen to your grieving friend.

It’s ok to say, “I am so sorry.”

Ask, “how are you feeling?” even when you know they feel awful.

It is also ok to say “I don’t know what to say.”  That is often very true, and it is quite ok to express this.

If you can, share your own thoughts, feelings, and memories about the deceased: “I remember that day when Alex spent the entire day barbecuing the brisket for us all…”

Encourage your grieving friend to cocoon himself or herself – this might mean long baths, receiving massages, curling up in a blanket and listening to music, whatever it is that is comforting to him or her.

“Grief isn’t depression” Dixie said, it’s more like having a big “dilated heart”. Grief comes in waves, and when it sweeps in, it wants to take you to your knees.

Go deep with it. Allow the strong emotions and feelings to move through you.

And support your grieving loved one in feeling what they feel, and being safe doing so.


About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and one of the most senior coaches for lawyers in North America. I have helped countless clients over the past fifteen years, develop thriving legal practices and before that served as director of marketing for award-winning law firms. My specialty is uncovering the thinking traps and gaps holding clients back and helping them acquire the mindsets, skills, and habits for growing successful and rewarding legal careers. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and now coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or learn more about my coaching practice from the coaching section of the Attorney With A Life Website.

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