What to say when someone passes

family grief support

family grief support

What to Say or Not Say when someone passes

I recently had a friend lose her husband to a short battle with cancer. She was very generous by sharing their journey through a blog. She kept all of us “blog stalkers” updated regularly on her family’s battle with the disease. She also shared wonderful stories of their life together. I can truly say I am a changed person after reading her blog and following their story.

After her husband passed, a new stage began – how to handle the grief.  And not just her grief, but the grief of everyone else in her husband’s life who was suffering the loss as well. Some people know exactly what to say when someone passes, others not so much, even though it is all well intentioned. The title of the guest post was “Grief Etiquette”. It pointed to this article which I found truly helpful. I encourage you to read it in it’s entirety.

According to the post, what to say when someone passes depends on where you are in a series of circles. Its call the Ring Theory of Kvetching and it works in many crisis, including grief, trauma, divorce. Basically it creates a circle diagram, like a bull’s eye and shows you what you are allowed to say to people who are in different circles than you.  When you create the diagram, the person at the center of the grief or trauma goes in the middle. The next ring would be those next closest to the grief or trauma, for example a spouse or parent.  The next layer would be those that are the next closest and so on. Closer friends would be in a closer ring than less close friends.

These rings create a pecking order of what you get to say about your grief and anger. Dumping your feelings of shock, disbelief and anger are perfectly normal. You just have to say it to someone who is in a ring further out than you. For example, if you are in the center of the ring you get to air your grief to anyone. If you are not in the center, but you are close to the center, you get to air your grief to anyone in an outer ring from you. If you are in an outer ring you can only offer comfort and help to those in a ring closer than you. In other words, support in dump out. Wait to express your feelings of anger and grief until you are with someone in an outer ring.

Think about what you are going to do or say to someone in a ring closer to the center. Is what you are about to do or say truly supportive or helpful? Support may come in the form of just “I’m sorry”. It may also come in the form of “Can I  do some grocery shopping for you” or “Can I pick up your dry cleaning”. Support to someone in an inner ring should not come in the form of advice. Unsolicited advice isn’t what is needed now, only comfort and support if you are talking to someone in an inner ring.

The article also kindly points out that one day we will all get our chance to be at the center of the ring.

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