5 ways to begin a conversation with someone who is grieving

There are good and bad ways to start a conversation with someone who is grieving. Take advantage of the good ones listed here to make the conversation a little less awkward.

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  • Death can make the most supportive and empathetic of us feel unsure of what to do. When we want to comfort a friend who has lost a loved one, we tend to be so worried about saying the "right" thing that we might not say anything at all. However, allowing someone who is grieving the chance to reminisce about her loved one can be a good way to start.

  • Here are just a few ways you can start a conversation that can help her reminisce, and make things a little less awkward for you:

  • "Tell me about him/her."

  • Depending on your relationship with the person you're comforting, you may not have met or known well the grandmother or brother she's lost. Just ask your friend to tell you some of the qualities of that loved one. Was he a jokester? Did she bake amazing cupcakes and give them to others who needed a pick-me-up? Did he impart words of wisdom? Was she well known in the community for her volunteerism?

  • "I remember…"

  • On the other hand, you may have known your friend's mother or husband well. If that's the case, you can start the conversation by sharing a memory of your own. You can talk about something silly or funny that person did, allowing you both to laugh while you cry, or you can say how much you appreciated a kind deed or uplifting thought he shared with you. Talk about his distinctive singing voice or dedication to his church community; bring up her way of making everyone feel included.

  • "What do you miss most?"

  • While many people think "reminding" someone who's grieving of how much he misses his late mother is the worst thing you can do, it's not. This question is a specific opening to allow your friend to talk about what's been hardest to adjust to after the death. The passing of a loved one leaves a hole in a grieving person's life, a gap that's glaringly obvious for a while. His mom may have been his go-to for advice on what to do with a frustrating preschooler. Her big sister may have been a terrific listening ear after rough days at work. No matter the particular role the loved one played, the loss will be particularly acute at times when that person would have stepped in to help in some way.

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  • "What do you not miss?"

  • If you know your friend or family member well, you can even ask about what he or she doesn't miss about the loved one. Loving, full relationships are usually complicated, involving all kinds of feelings, including frustration, anger and disappointment. Allowing your friend to be honest about the challenges that came up occasionally with a late mother or husband can help her to work through all the feelings that bubble up during the grieving process, even if they're a little messy and may seem disloyal or unkind. Listen without judgment. Laugh along about silly foibles. Cry about lost opportunities.

  • "How are others in your family doing?"

  • If your friend lost her mother, ask about how her father is doing. There likely are children missing a doting grandparent. How are they handling the change? Is your friend feeling overwhelmed by the need to support them through the loss as well? Guide her to talk about the bigger picture and offer specific help.

  • Allowing your friend to talk and share memories and feelings will help him to proceed naturally through the process of grieving. Give him all the time he needs. Lend your ears, your heart, your shoulder to cry on, your hands to pitch in on practical matters. Be available for hugs.

  • You can even leave a small gift that will remind your friend of how much you care in between the times you can't be with her, like a photo you took long ago of her father or a soft blanket from Minky Couture that can stand in for a warm hug when you're apart.

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Cathy Carmode Lim is the founder of RatedReads.com, a website that reviews books and gives them ratings according to content. She is also a copy editor and blogs at LifeandLims.com.

Website: http://RatedReads.com

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