SCOTTSDALE — The unthinkable has happened: a friend’s loved one has died. What can you say to comfort them? And equally important, what should you not say?
Amy Florian, a nationally acclaimed speaker on grief whose husband was killed in a car wreck 34 years ago, shared her expertise on the topic at St. Patrick Parish April 23. Florian, with a master’s degree in grief studies, has worked with more than 2,000 grieving people over the years and teaches a graduate-level course at Loyola University Chicago.
For starters, don’t be afraid to say the name of the person who died, Florian said.
“We are afraid when we say the name we will make them cry….but the tears are there, so go ahead and say the name,” Florian said.
At a wake, instead of simply saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” you might say something like, “I’ll always remember John’s tenor voice. The choir will never be the same without him.”
Grief and bereavement
About general grief from Queen of Heaven Cemetery and Mortuary.
Includes links to grief specifically for families, children, adolescents, parents, homicide, suicide and spousal death
Instead of telling a bereaved person to, “Call me anytime,” it’s a better idea to make the call yourself. Depending on the relationship, you could say that you’ll call every week on a particular day at a specific time just to see how they’re doing. You could also ask questions such as, “Would it be helpful if I babysat? Or, could I pick up some groceries for you?”
One of the most upsetting things people sometimes say to the grieving is, “I know just how you feel,” Florian said. “No, you don’t.” And don’t hurry people along in their grieving.
Your job is not to cheer them up, but rather to accompany them on the roller coaster journey of the grieving process, Florian said. Don’t ever try to explain death or tell them that it is just God’s will that their loved one died.
Instead, you could say, “We don’t know why this happens but we know God is crying with you, God is suffering with you.”
Florian received a standing ovation at the end of her two-hour presentation. Pat Kovacevich, a winter visitor to the Diocese of Phoenix, said she is in charge of organizing funeral luncheons at her home parish in Wisconsin. Her sister was recently widowed and her grandchildren experienced the tragic loss of their cousin.
“I thought her talk was phenomenal — excellent, I definitely learned some things,” Kovacevich said. “Like not to think that grief has a time limit.”
Alex Cudzewicz, an investment advisor and member of the stewardship committee at St. Patrick Parish, said he had heard Florian speak before at an advanced financial planning conference. Financial planners sometimes have clients who are grieving.
“They come into the office and they’re crying. So how do you deal with that awkward emotional situation?” Cudzewicz said. Having Florian speak at St. Patrick was a good idea, he said, because of the parishioners involved in the funeral and bereavement ministries.
“We thought it would be very helpful for people to hear and we advertised it as much as possible to other parishes. She has uncommon insights,” Cudzewicz said.