Death and Small Talk

When someone dies, it is the ones who remain that need comforting.  

Many of us don’t know what to do, what to say, or how or if to approach the subject.   In fact, we shy away from it; sometimes avoiding the person or making a feeble attempt to make small talk.  All the while creating a more tense and awkward situation.

My guest blogger, Taru Fisher works in partnership with women in transition to create a new life of their own choosing.  She recently lost her son, and has decided to open up her heart and share her journey.  Taru courageously shares a few suggestions.

…what can one say or do for someone who is grieving.  I thought I could rattle something off, but I discovered it was not that easy.  I had to go back in my mind and remember what had helped and what had not.

First, I’m going to get a little help from my friend, Chandrama Anderson, a licensed MFT…she wrote a wonderful little brochure titled, The Language of Grieving: A Brief Guide to Comforting a Grieving Friend or Loved One…condolence etiquette that resonates strongly with me: ( my comment are in 

Acknowledge the loss–saying nothing or pretending the death didn’t happen hurts the person.  For me, I then feel invisible and alone.

Show you care–a bereaved person needs to have the death acknowledged, to have empathy, care and support, and most importantly, to hear words that allow them to feel whatever they are feeling at the moment.  For me, this is one of the most important things one can do.

Allow the grieving person to take the lead in conversations–it’s helpful for the one who is grieving to talk with you as they normally would, and even to be able to laugh!  At first, I felt guilty if I laughed, and then I realized it was so helpful to be able to find humor and even momentary joy.

Allow the bereaved to tell, and even re-tell the story of the death of their loved one.  It helps as they work through their grief and mourning.  When I do this, it seems to release some misery from my soul.

Speak of the loved one who has died…Asking permission can make this discussion less awkward for the condoler, “Is it OK if I talk about Mike once in awhile?”   I would love to be asked this as it seems to help ease the pain of loss to remember him and speak it out loud.

Avoid religious platitudes as they may deny the bereaved permission to feel what they feel.  I would feel quite uncomfortable if someone said something like “It was God’s will” or “He’s in a better place now.”

The journey through grieving has no road map or timetable.  Remembering and talking about the loved one’s important dates such as birthdays, holidays, etc. can bring solace and comfort…  This is so very helpful as I kept feeling a pressure of time to get over it already.  An inner voice was chastising me to stop grieving and start living…Now I understand life will never be the same and I can take all the time I need.

Handling it with civility and etiquette:  Don’t avoid anyone who has lost a loved one; it is obvious to them.  If you are uncertain as to what to say, simply say, “It is so nice to see you.”  Offer to walk with them to the refreshment table, or to a nearby group.  Ask them out to coffee.

Don't Burp in the Boardroom, business etiquette trainingTake a look at her new book, “Don’t Burp in the Boardroom-handling uncommon common workplace dilemmas.”

Rosalinda Randall is a Civility and Etiquette Consultant. She has been spreading civility for over fourteen years throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. She provides custom-tailored on-site workshops to support HR policies, staff development, college and university students and restaurant staff. 650.871.6200