You may have gone to the funeral and paid your respects, or maybe you learned about the loss later and now find yourself facing the new griever in your local coffee shop.  No matter where you meet them, it’s hard to know what to say to someone who’s grieving.

Most of us have some idea what to say at visitations and funerals but once the ceremonies are over, even the simplest conversations can feel awkward.  So what is the magically perfect, soothing, right thing to say when you meet a grieving friend around town?

The answer is simple.    

Stop searching for the perfect and wise thing to say and ask them a good question instead.

Good questions open doors to interesting conversations and once you’re interested, conversation flows and feelings of awkwardness disappear.  If you’re not used to this style of communicating it can feel a bit forced at first but to a grieving person, an honest question and a patient ear often feel like answers to a prayer.

Almost every griever wants to talk about this new stage of life and most are hungry to talk about the person they lost.  There are lots of angles to ask about, once you know where to look. Don’t worry that you’ll remind people that their loved one has died, they haven’t forgotten.  By asking about the life they had with the people they loved you’re letting them know that their loved one isn’t forgotten.

You might want to segue into these conversation-starting-questions with a comment about the deceased.  If you’re comfortable using the deceased person’s name that will give the griever an extra boost

“Hi Janice,

I was thinking about you and Bob the other day and remembering the first time we met.”

Then you might ask: “How did you two first meet?”

Depending on what Janice tells you, you might go on to ask: “What first attracted you to Bob?”

Or:   What was it like introducing him to your family?”

You’re not there to interrogate the griever but to listen and learn.  If their answer sparks another question, ask it.  If you have an anecdote or a warm memory of the deceased ask the griever if they’d like to hear it before you go.  If they’re not ready or there isn’t time, save it for another day.

Most grievers want to talk about the people they’ve lost and and they want to hear stories about those people as well.  Asking grievers good questions allows them to step back into the world of the living for a moment and lets them know that they haven’t been forgotten.

Think of a couple of questions that pique your interest and use them to open up conversations that might otherwise feel stilted.  Once you find the questions that you’re comfortable asking, you will have solved your small-talk dilemma with grievers and maybe with others as well.

You may be surprised where a few great questions take you.

Written by Catherine Mitchell, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist serving the Durham Region.