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Comforting Someone Who's Dealing with a Difficult Death


Bereavement Relief

Posted On: Mar 21, 2017

Comforting Someone Who's Dealing with a Difficult Death

Recently, we discussed what it's like to deal with the passing of a toxic person or someone who caused harm. Now it is time to flip that topic and talk about how to support and comfort someone who's dealing with the death of someone who made them feel angry, afraid, or ambivalent. The situation is a tricky, delicate one, especially for anyone looking to stand beside the bereaved. The traditional platitudes and words of comfort don't work in a situation where the survivor isn't really mourning the departed. Offering support requires compassion, tact, and keen empathy. It will serve you well to put yourself in your friend or loved one's shoes.

Focus on the Bereaved, Not the Departed

This is a unique situation. It's one time when you don't need to concentrate on the dead person, her or his character, any accomplishments, or any of the traditional speaking points that typically follow a death. Place your focus on the survivor. Offer as much sympathy as possible and whatever empathy you can. Question how the survivor's handling things. Don't talk about the deceased, especially in relation to your loved one. Remember s/he doesn't owe the deceased anything, and neither do you.

Avoid Common Platitudes

There's a good reason for this. In fact, unless you personally know the deceased, opening with “I'm sorry for your loss” takes a lot for granted. If you know that your friend or close relative had a contentious or harmful relationship with the person who died, then you're aware that saying “I'm sorry” will do more harm than good. You don't need to talk about how the deceased is in a better place. The survivor does not, will not, and should not care.

Listening Helps More than Anything

Survivors of harm or abuse need their voices heard. They need to tell their stories. Instead of the pesky platitudes mentioned above, open up the lines of communication with the bereaved. Tell her or him that you honestly have no idea what to say and you can't possibly imagine what s/he has gone through with this situation. You can say you're sorry that no one was there to listen or help. That provides the survivor with an invitation to vent, to be heard, and to unburden the painful memories brought up by this death.

As in so many other cases, being there is the best thing you can do. Offer an ear, a hug, a willingness to listen, and never judge the survivor. Love helps more than anything.