Coping With Anniversary Grief

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, Grieving

Tips for Coping with Anniversary Reactions in Grief

 by Marty Tousley

A reader writes: My brother and I were like twins growing up: 14 months apart and inseparable. When I was 25 and he was 26, he died of cancer. At the time, I didn’t grieve hardly at all, as I was raised not to talk about intense feelings much. So…I put a lot of these painful feelings away, and didn’t realize until this past year, when I was going through other stresses, that there was even something called delayed grief. The pain has been overwhelming. I am going through counseling with a really good therapist who is helping, but I am dreading my brother’s death anniversary date that is coming up next month. It is always an extremely difficult month for me. I am especially dreading it this year. I had been doing better lately but the past two days I started crying just thinking about my brother. I miss him so much. He was my best friend in the world and no one can ever replace him. On top of everything else, I have guilt feelings that I didn’t do enough to help him get diagnosed earlier. It has been so many years since he died but it feels like just yesterday.

My response: As you have discovered, delayed grief is very real, but once recognized and with support, it can be understood, worked through and managed – so I’m glad to know that you are working with “a really good therapist who is helping” as you come to terms with your brother’s death. I’m sure your therapist will have some suggestions for you as the anniversary date of this death approaches, but for now I’d like to offer the following, taken from my book, Finding Your Way through Grief: A Guide for the First Year. (Note that, although this passage addresses what can happen in the first year of grief, these reactions can occur at any time following a significant loss – even years after the death.)

Setbacks, Aftershocks and the Recurrence of Grief

Setbacks are the unexpected but inevitable frustrations and disappointments you’ll encounter in your efforts to rebuild following your loss. They can affect you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. They include statements from family members or friends which, intentionally or not, discourage your efforts. They can be your own internal thoughts, feelings and attitudes which have inhibited and debilitated you in the past: rigidity, closed mindedness, self-doubt, bitterness, anger, disappointment, and the temptation to quit. Or they can be external roadblocks stemming from natural occurrences or from bureaucratic rules and regulations you’ll encounter along the way.

Aftershocks or “grief bursts” happen when some of the “down” feelings you’ve already experienced in grief come at you again several months after the death, or even after a year or more. Sometimes something acts as a trigger and catches you by surprise: a song, a place, a movie or a season, and it’s as if you’re confronted with the death for the first time, all over again. Painful emotions crash in on you, and it feels as if you’re starting the entire grief process anew.

Recurrence of grief is common and normal, but disturbing nonetheless. Although the strong feelings of grief are not continuous, they can return at any time, whenever you are reminded of your loss. They may be especially apparent toward the end of your first year, as you approach the anniversary date of your loved one’s death.

As this special date draws near, you may find yourself preoccupied with thoughts of your loved one’s diagnosis, treatment and care, remembering your experience of facing a terminal illness together. You may be frightened and confused, all this time expecting that your grief would have been resolved by now and finding instead that if anything your pain has intensified.

Rest assured that what you’re feeling is normal and to be expected. You are not losing ground; the progress you’ve made is real. Getting past this anniversary is but another significant step in finding your way through grief. At this point it is only natural to look back and reflect on what used to be before you can let go of it, move on through your grief, and embrace whatever your life is going to be in the future.

Some mourners make the mistake of measuring the depth of their love by the depth of their pain. They convince themselves that letting go of the pain of loss is the same as letting go of (and forgetting) their loved one. Letting go of what used to be is not an act of disloyalty, and it does not mean forgetting your lost loved one. You will never forget, because a part of the one who died remains in you. There are many things you can do to ensure that your loved one will be remembered, and to give testimony to your continuing relationship with that person. Letting go means leaving behind the sorrow and pain of grief and choosing to go on, taking with you only those memories and experiences that enhance your ability to grow and expand your capacity for happiness.

Suggestions for coping with setbacks, aftershocks, and the recurrence of grief:

  • Accept that setbacks are a reality of life over which you have no control. Remember that, although you cannot choose what life has to offer, you can always choose how to respond. The attitudes you bring to life’s circumstances are always within your control. You can choose to give up and give in, or you can choose to take charge of your life and keep moving forward. 
  • Know that aftershocks of grief are normal, and they will pass more quickly each time you experience them. They can be controlled somewhat by controlling the reminders of your loss, either by disposing of them or deliberately seeking them out. Maintain a balance between what you hold onto and what you let go of. Keep what’s special or of sentimental value and when you’re ready, discard the rest.
  • Handle your memories with care. If they are painful and unpleasant, they can be hurtful and destructive. If they create longing and hold you to the past, they can interfere with your willingness to move on. You can choose which parts of life you shared that you wish to keep and which parts you want to leave behind.
  • Soothe your pain by thinking of happy as well as sad memories. The happiness you experienced with your loved one belongs to you forever. Hold onto those rich memories, and give thanks for the life of the person you’ve lost instead of brooding over the last days.
  • Build a memory time into the day, or pack an entire day with meaning. It’s easier to cope with memories you’ve chosen than to have them take you by surprise. Immerse yourself in the healing power of remembrance. Go to a special place, read aloud, listen to a favorite song. Celebrate what once was and is no more.
  • Know that oftentimes the anticipation of an anniversary date is worse than the actual day.
  • Identify those days, events and seasons that are likely to intensify and rekindle your pain, and build comfort and healing into them. Plan what you’re going to do ahead of time, even if you plan to be alone. Don’t set yourself up for a bad day.
  • Let your friends and relatives know in advance which days and events are significant for you. Verbalize your needs and include them in your plans. They may be very willing to help, but need for you to tell them how.

  • If you’re feeling anxious, confused or immobilized as a certain date or time approaches, get the reassurance you need by returning to your support group or speaking with your bereavement counselor.
  • As this first year draws to a close, plan a memorial ritual. Draw on those familiar, comforting ceremonies and activities unique to your religion, culture, traditions, family or way of life. Use this ritual as your rite of passage through grieving to healing, to mark a shift in the way you mourn, or as an official end to this first year of mourning.
  • Understand that you’re never really finished with loss when someone significant leaves you. This loss will resurface during key developmental periods for the rest of your life. You will have to face it again and again, not as the person you are today, but as the person you will have grown to be in two or five or twenty years from now. Each time you will face it on new terms, but it won’t take as long and it won’t be as difficult. 
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Posted by on May 7, 2016 in Blog, Grieving

Fam grief

In listening to other men who had gone through the loss of their wives, I realized that people go through the grieving process differently. I even saw this in myself. I discovered there were differences in how I worked through my mourning time after Ruth died in contrast to the way I experienced grief after Judith died. As I reviewed what was different and why, it became apparent that many factors were not the same: I was older, I no longer had kids at home, I had done it before, and I talked to more people about it the second time. Many things can affect how a person goes through the grieving process. A few include:

  • The personality type of the person mourning
  • The definition of the relationship between the bereaved and the loss/person lost
  • The way the loss took place, whether over time or suddenly
  • The coping skills of the griever and the stability of their mental health
  • The support team available
  • The culture and religious perspective of the one who experienced loss
  • The social and financial situation they are in, or come into, based on the loss
  • The age of the grieving person

A Process not an Event

Another important realization for me was to accept that grieving is a process and not an event. My personality wanted to experience it as an event, fix it and get on with life. Not so! As waves of emotion continued to well up month after month, I realized that, little by little, I was letting go of my losses with each “first” life event after my wife’s death. The first holiday, the first time her birthday came up, the first time seeing mutual friends without her, and the first wedding anniversary. These were all events in the process that required time to happen and heal.

Beware of implying that a mourner should “snap out of it” too quickly. “This is behind you now,” and “It’s time to get on with your life,” are both comments that imply just that. Prematurely stated comments to that effect can do more harm than good. Listening closely to the bereaved within the first year of a loss can reveal what comments will help them most. Beware of making comments that begin with “you should” or even “you will.” Better would be statements like, “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care.”

I experienced the re-establishment of a new identity after the loss of my job and position. I had to rebuild a new set of friends and lifestyle after we moved across country as a family. It is all a process and not an event.

A Natural Emotional Response

I came to see grief as an emotional condition that’s as natural as bleeding when my arm gets cut. As a man, that was hard to acknowledge at first. I remember thinking when I was younger that if my wife’s parents died, she would really cry a lot. I refused to think my emotions would be “reduced” to sobbing.

But the moment I watched Ruth take her last breath, I was suddenly overwhelmed with an emotion I didn’t know was possible. It completely controlled me for a time. My heart was broken and it was as real as any other human hurt.

Mental logic such as, “Look what you have to be thankful for,” or “She is in a better place” did nothing for my hurting heart. I found more solace in comments like, “I really miss her too.”

Feeling of Hopelessness

Hopelessness is a word that accurately describes the hurt of the grieving. The inability to reverse the loss can be devastating. I could not bring my wife back from the dead. I could not get my position and job back. I could not recover the money I lost in a business deal. I could not bring my friends back into my life after they moved away. Things were out of control and it was scary.

Knowing what to say when helping the bereaved with the sense of hopelessness depends on the circumstances and timing. In many cases reassurances that times will be better in the future and that this hardship will pass are in order. Other times the best thing to say would be, “It must really hurt for you to be going through this now.”

Comments that minimize or gloss over the loss are of little help to the griever, especially near the time of the loss. “Things will be better,” “You can always have another child,” “You’ll get another job,” or “You will find another wife” are comments that do nothing to relieve the broken heart. A simple, “I’m sorry for your loss” is better than attempting to predict the future.

Grief is about the Griever

The grieving process is about the pain of the griever and not the one lost. Try to identify with the hurt the mourner is going through instead of logically dealing with the one (or thing) lost. No one really knows how any other person feels or what it is like for them. We can be the most help by focusing on helping them identify and often express their feelings with the goal of healing and victory.

A comment that can actually enrage a mourner is “I know how you must feel.” WRONG. Even if you have experienced a similar loss, you really don’t know exactly how someone else is feeling. There will be unknown variables that can affect the way loss grips another person. Beware of comparisons in an effort to minimize their pain. Acknowledgement of their pain is more helpful than trying to redefine yours.

It Takes Time

Grieving takes time to process. Both the bereaved and those who help them must allow for the time factor. However, the amount of time required varies greatly from person to person. Many people advised me to not make any major decisions for 12 months. That may be a generalized statement, but it can be very inappropriate to demand of all grievers. Some people intently work through their grieving process in months where others require years. When seeking to aid someone who has experienced a loss, beware of predetermining a time frame for them.

Instead of saying, “So, are you doing better now?” or “You look like you are on the mend,” ask your mourning friend, “How is today going for you?” This will give more room for the ups and downs of the process without making them feel wrong if they are having a bad day.

True, time does heal the mourner. When processed well, grieving does come to a conclusion. There can be a certain amount of comfort from knowing that the hurt felt today will not be forever. It is also true that time does not completely erase memories or even a bit of sadness.

That truth was shared with me from a total stranger a few weeks after Ruth’s death. The shop keeper/owner was obviously approaching retirement. His friendly demeanor made it easy to share my recent experience of loss. Upon hearing my story he simply stared out the window and recalled his wife’s death ten years before. “Yes,” he continued, “you never really get over the loss. It is just that the pain and difficult memories fade in time.”

It is interesting to note that the Bible even connects mourning with time. “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. … A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” New King James Version, Ecclesiastes 3.1, 4.

Action Required

Time alone is not enough to process one’s pain. Some steps, however, cannot be totally ignored forever. Actions are required to victoriously emerge one day from the pit of despair. Not processing grief well is like sneezing while holding your nose and shutting your mouth. You can blow something else out!

One action step I struggled with concerned experiencing all the “firsts” that followed my wife’s death. These included the first time seeing friends since my loss, the firsts of each major holiday, the first spring day, the first social event, the first time going to familiar places, the first anniversary of my loss, and even the first time having a meal with my family after my wife’s funeral. Being able to experience a one-year cycle of life, and going through all the “firsts,” could possibly be one of the reasons that twelve months is generally promoted in the grieving process.

I also had to process the scope of my loss. For many, coming to grips with the permanence of their loss becomes one of the hardest actions. Life as one knows it has stopped. Resulting changes required by one’s loss, such as help with household chores, companionship, intimacy, help with decisions, can take time and struggle. Identifying these losses and the required changes is where long conversations can aid in the dissecting of the details of one’s loss. Consequently, grief can actually be layered and needs to be peeled back like an onion.

Often, identifying with the struggles of the bereaved can only be acquired by being with them. “Call me if there is anything I can do,” only confuses the mourner. They will never call you. First, they could feel “weak” if they admitted need. Second, they often aren’t thinking as clearly as usual, making a simple call to a friend for help an impossibility. I suggest you show up at their place (or make a phone call) and say, “I’ve been thinking about you and just felt I should come by.”

With the loss of my wife, I needed to realize that I lost more than just a family member. I lost my lover. I lost my best friend. I lost all the dreams for the future we had. I lost my connection to certain friends. I lost a relationship of intimacy. Each of these losses required adjustment by me. I felt like someone had torn apart my Lincoln Log house I had built over the years and I now needed to rebuild it. But many of the core pieces were missing.

Doing Life Again

The days immediately following a loss can be a blur or even a fog, but life goes on. A friend, Michael, described it this way. “So how do you live, how do you survive? You focus on the “have-tos” first. I have to work. I have to shower. I have to eat. I have to keep up the house. I have to take care of the others in the household that are hurting just as much or more than I am. I have to hold them, comfort them. Focus on helping them get through this, while dealing with the reality that such a big part of our lives has been torn from us. That’s all there is for a while. Down times are the worst. Grief, mourning, pain, tears come. My pain, pain to my kids, pain to everyone who feels the loss seems overwhelming. Focus on things that matter; things that make a difference. Songs on the radio that you sang together bring tears again. Life will never be the same!”

Grief and Identity

People respond differently by suddenly having the stigma or identity of being the one who has experienced a loss. Taking on the title of widow vs. married, unemployed vs. having a job, homeless vs. having a secure abode, single again vs. married, or even childless vs. cuddling a baby becomes a struggle in and of itself. This new identity is required to fully find release from the pain of the event. It can be part of the process to freedom.

The pastor of the church we were attending was a great counselor for me during Ruth’s seven-year illness and death. I would often go and just tell him everything that was going on. One time, just before she died, I was in his office reviewing the events of the week. The doctors had sent her home from the hospital to die. He sensed that I was about to explode but could not. He wisely and lovingly said, “David, Ruth is dying.” His stating that stark and awful truth released my emotions. I found that acknowledgement necessary to help me process my loss after she died.

Accepting the new identity that loss demands, however, needs to be processed well. I recall observing my mother’s response to being “the poor widow” with five kids. She actually got to where she enjoyed the pity that identity offered. She actually became good at reminding people that she was widowed so they would possibly pity her. This became a hindrance to her healing.

In contrast, I recall the day about three months after Judith died when I sensed I was beginning to accept my singleness. It seems that from the time of Judith’s funeral till that day, I could not be content to let a conversation rest with someone who did not know me until I made them aware of the fact that I was recently widowed. The identity of being a recent widower held me captive. Then, one evening, I was at a concert and struck up a conversation with the gentleman sitting beside me. When I got home I realized that I did not even mention anything about my being a recent widower. I was simply me, a single man. It felt freeing.

A person is now faced with the challenge of building a new identity, starting over. This can be scary. It requires effort. Who they are now, after their loss, needs to be redefined. This can include things like making new friends, adjusting their social calendar, maybe visiting places and people they have not seen before, and it may even mean changes in wardrobe or decorating that reflect them now. Often, part of the struggle is getting past the question, “Would my loved one approve?” or “Am I being disloyal to them by changing?”

As the griever passes through this part of the process, you can help them by changing the nature of your questions. Instead of asking how they are doing with the loss of their loved one, begin asking specific questions about them. Of course, talking about their loved one is always in order for their healing. Eventually asking specific questions about them will be helpful as they establish a new identity. “What kind of music do you like these days?” or “Would you like to go out with some friends this Friday?” can be starters. One couple at my church asked me regularly what movies I was enjoying lately. It helped that they were asking about ME and who I was now.

Grief Hurts

This may seem like it should go without saying: Grief hurts. However, I didn’t really know to what extent it hurts until I experienced it firsthand. The pain of the mourner comes from deep inside them. It cannot be fixed quickly, nor should we think they “aren’t doing well” when this pain shows up.

Six months after Judith died, I was invited to have lunch with a hospice chaplain who himself had lost his wife about the same time as me. Someone who knew me and saw me weekly had told him I needed to talk because I wasn’t “handling things well.” At the end of the two-hour meal, the chaplain leaned back in his seat and admitted, “I asked to meet with you today because I heard you weren’t doing well. The truth is you have helped me beyond belief. Thanks.”

It made me wonder why this other friend who saw me more often thought I wasn’t handling things well. As I reviewed our visits, I realized what had happened. The friend who saw me weekly witnessed me tearing over easily and regularly in public. He concluded, albeit inaccurately that it must mean I was not doing well. In reality, because I had the freedom to show, my occasional painful moments, I was actually doing great in terms of working through the process.

Another important thing in understanding grief and pain is the truth in the statement that “hurting people hurt people.” As you strive to help those you know who grieve, please give room for them to express themselves. Sometimes in fits of pain they can hurt others. This may not even be intentional. An understanding heart and a polite, timely word would be much better than judgment, criticism or pulling away from them.

Not A Quick Fix

The list of helpful and not so helpful comments I heard during the viewing and funerals of both my wives is confusing. Many came from an effort to “fix” or help relieve my grief. If someone does not feel they have such a statement they feel like they “don’t know what to say.” Grief does not have a “quick fix.” Grief only needs to be heard and identified, in most cases. Listening is better than talking. Statements of the loss are better than logic for why or results of the loss.

No Prescribed List

My personality likes predictability and lists. It frustrated me when I heard others describe their journey and I noted differences. I wondered if it was just me or them that was missing something. I finally came to the realization that although grief patterns exist, there is no such thing as a definite checklist of things every mourner must go through to process their loss well.

This helps explain why some people would question whether I was really doing well if I had not experienced a certain thing (i.e. anger, guilt, blame, “WHY?”, etc.). Knowing possible feelings like this can be helpful to identify what a person is going through and accept it. However, to use any set of expectations as a checklist, much less judge a person on how well he or she is doing, can put undue stress on your relationship by adding wrong expectations.

One’s Faith Can Be Challenged

I was recently interviewed over the Internet for an online TV talk show. During the interview a viewer texted in, “How did you handle your “Why God?” question?” I realize that often times this is one of the first questions grievers ask. My answer was not as some would have expected. (See the complete response in chapter 12).

One’s worldview, especially regarding the spiritual side of man, tends to emerge during times of loss due to death. The “why” questions bring out fundamental beliefs, or the lack thereof, regarding basic human experiences from “origin” to “purpose” to “conclusions” surrounding human existence. Grievers often express their questions amidst their hurts. This topic can be a source of comfort for many but a source of distress for others. Your sensitivity to the griever in this area is crucial in helping process and move on to victory.



« Point To Ponder »

Grief is the acknowledgement of loss emotionally. It is mostly a heart problem, not a mind challenge.


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Posted by on Apr 2, 2016 in Blog, Grief Relief


The moment of greeting a mourner is indeed difficult. What are the words of comfort? Can I help to ease the pain? I want to express my condolences sincerely, but the words seem so inadequate. Or, perhaps I will say the wrong thing- something I intend to be well-meaning – but is received as hurtful?

In the Bible, we learn from the example of three friends who come to comfort Job as he grieves for his ten children: “And they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. After this, Job began to speak…” (Job 2:12-13) Jewish tradition derived three principles of comforting the mourner from this text: BE THERE, SPEAK IN SILENCE and HEAR WITH A HEART.

If there is one fundamental message of Judaism about death and bereavement it is this: We are not alone. When a loved one dies, the
feeling of being alone is overwhelming. That is why the goal of Jewish comforting is to surround the mourner with a supportive community. Be there. Be there at the funeral. Be there at the shiva home. Be there during the difficult days, weeks, and months ahead. Without a word, your presence says “I am here for you. You are not alone.”

Ironically, silence is often the most powerful language of all. It is perhaps the best way to begin a conversation with a mourner. A warm embrace, an arm around a shoulder, a sincere look, the sharing of tears together – these are the non-verbal messages to the bereaved that say more than a thousand words. Jewish tradition suggests that comforters say nothing until the mourner begins to speak. Let the mourner take the lead. Some will want to talk, to tell the story, to share their feelings. Some will not. Do not fear silence. Offer a hug, a hand, a touch that says “I understand. ‘I accept your feelings another way you are expressing them. Go ahead. I’ll be here for you.“

There is great power in presenting yourself to the mourning as an empathetic listener. Real hearing is silent – no interruptions, no judgments, no denials, no problem-solving – just hearing with the heart .

This is not easy to do. We all want to fix things. We all want to make things better. We all want to take the grief away. But we cannot. Nor should we try. For when we do, we often say the wrong thing:

“Time will heal. ”
“Calm down.”
“I know exactly how you feel. ”
“It’s probably for the best.” “Be strong.”
“What my mother went through when she died…”
“You’re young. You’ll have another child. ”
“It’ll be all right. ”

For most bereaved, it is definitely not “all right.” A loved one has died and the grief-work must proceed for the person to be psychologically healed. One of the most important gifts you can give to a mourner is the full, complete and non-judgmental acceptance of the person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, no matter how explosive, no matter how “embarrassing,” no matter how much you wane desperately to reassure the mourner that things will be better. It is the mourner who must do the grief-work, not you. It is the mourner who must come up with answers, not you.

It is the mourner who must speak, not you.


You have come to the shiva home. You have offered your nonverbal greeting. Now comes the awkward moment when you have to say something. What can I say? Here are a few suggestions for opening a conversation with a mourner:

“I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.”
“I’m so sorry about your (mother; brother; etc. or name the deceased)”
“I don’t know what to say. This must be really tough for you.”
“I hurt for you ”
“(Name the deceased) loved you so much.”
“I hope you can hold on to the good memories.”
”Do you feel like talking?”

If the answer to the last question is “no,” suggest another time. Often mourners are too exhausted to talk. Or, they may be tired. of telling the same story over and over again. On the other hand, if they indicate a willingness to talk, you may want to ask a simple “What happened?”

As the mourner talks, keep in mind these suggestions for helpful conversations

Listen non-judgmentally. Mourners don’t want to be told their feelings are wrong.
Pay attention. Give your undivided attention. Try to get on eye-level with the mourner, establish eye contact, lean forward, hold hands, nod your head and use nonverbal expressions to encourage the mourner to continue the conversation.
Don’t interrupt. Give the bereaved all the time he or she needs to speak without jumping in to finish a thought or to hurry the
person along…
Don’t give rational answers. The death of a loved one cannot be explained away with logic.
Don’t compare experiences. Grief is not a competitive. The last thing a mourner wants to hear about is your loss. Some mourners do feel a connection with someone whose loved one went through a similar illness and death, but if you must speak of your loss, it’s important to qualify your comments with the statement, “I can’t know how you feel, but when my…”

You may also want to offer your help, but make a specific suggestion: “Can I bring dinner tomorrow?” is a much better approach than the vague “Is there anything I can do?”

Many of us have been in shiva homes where there was more talk about the news, sports and weather, more sharing of gossip and jokes, than memories of the deceased. We do this in part because we are uncomfortable with death and grief. But we also do this because we aren’t sure what is appropriate conversation in the home of a mourner.

The rabbis who created the Jewish approach to bereavement knew that there would be talk of death, but they also wanted talk of life. Specifically, talk of the life of the deceased. The eulogy at the funeral is designed precisely for this purpose – to stimulate a life-review and to conjure up memories of the loved one.

Those who seek to comfort can continue this process by sharing personal memories of special times with the mourner and the deceased: “I remember when you and your mother went with us to the theater…” Or, recall a favorite characteristic of the deceased: “I’ll never forget what a generous man your father was…” When the time is right, you might even share a humorous incident. The laughter, though bitter sweet, can be very therapeutic for the mourner. If you did not know the deceased, ask the mourner about photos or other mementos that may be displayed in the home.

Enabling the mourner to share these stories helps them crystallize and record fond memories of the deceased in the heart and mind. This is one of the major goals of the bereavement period. It is also one of the most comforting things we can do.

When making a condolence call, it is appropriate to bring a token of your support. During the shiva bereavement period, it is customary for the community to enable the mourners to concentrate on their grief by providing for their sustenance. This explains why gifts of food are often brought to the home where the shiva is being held. Cakes and cookies are popular choices, although one should inquire about the level of kashrut observed in the home. A safe choice for any home is a fruit basket. Flowers, liquor and candy are usually considered too festive for a house of mourning. A meaningful and much appreciated alternative to food is to make a donation in memory of the deceased to a charity designated by the mourners.

Condolence letters are another source of comfort to mourners. The words of sympathy and memory are welcome reminders to the bereaved that you are thinking about them. A good condolence letter acknowledges the loss and names the deceased, uses words of sympathy that share your sorrow, notes special qualities of the deceased, recalls a memory about the deceased, reminds the bereaved of their personal strengths, and offers specific help.

~ What Can I Say / Words of Comfort was written by Dr. Ron Wolfson

Dr. Ron Wolfson is Vice President, Director of the Shirley and Arthur Whizin Institute for Jewish Family Life, and William and Freda Fingerhut Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Judaism. He is the author of A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort in The Art of Jewish Living series published by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs and the University of Judaism (1994).images

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Are You Saying the Right Things to Grievers?

Posted by on Mar 9, 2016 in Blog, Grief Relief


Taken from the book by David Knapp, I Didn’t Know What to Say: Being a Better Friend
to Those Who Experience Loss. For a better understanding as to why the comments
in black are more helpful than the statements in red, get the entire book at

+Your loss is a very difficult thing to go through, I am sure.
-Get a grip!
+I will always remember him/her.
-I don’t want to talk about the dead. Let’s talk about the living.
+Do you need someone to go with you to choose a casket or marker?
-I know what you are going through. I lost a kitten once.
+Can we go for a walk on Sunday afternoon and chat?
-You need to take your mind totally off your pain.
+Tell me something special about your early days with him/her.
-You should be thankful he/she is out of pain.
+It’s so good you have the freedom to cry/express your feelings.
-You need to get over this.
+No, you are not crazy. You are grieving and it is okay. This will pass.
-I know EXACTLY how you feel.
+I realize this must be hard for you.
-Call if you ever need anything.
+So, how are you feeling today?

-Let me tell you what you need to do.
+I understand that you feel the way you do…and it is okay.
-You can’t bring him/her back. God is in control.
+Can I help you find others who have had a similar loss?
-This happened because God had something/someone better for you.
+Can you join our group for dinner this Friday?
-Call me sometime.
+His/her memories are a legacy of love.
-You need to let go of him/her so you can start living again.
+Are you up for a chat now or next week?
-You look great. You must be over it.
+Thanks for having the freedom to talk to me about your feelings right now.
-How are you holding up?
+Here is a favorite memory I have of him/her.
-So now you are all alone. What a shame.
+You made the right decisions surrounding his/her death.
-At least he/she is not a vegetable.
+Can I call you on an anniversary that is important to you?
-You need to get all his belongings out of the house as soon as possible.
+Can I come by and get your grocery list on Friday?
-You are not making sense. Snap out of it.
+Can I come by and help clean on Tuesday?
-How does it feel to have survived his/her death?
-You should be thankful it wasn’t worse.

+Tell me about your child/loved one. What was he/she like?
-Your child is in a better place. God needed another angel.
+I miss him/her too.
-You should be happy for the time you had with him/her.
+You did all you could do at the time.
-How are you ever going to forgive yourself?
+I am praying for you and your family.
-Well, at least you won’t have to potty train that child.
+I have no idea of the depth of your pain but I am here for you.
-You can always have/adopt other children.
-You are lucky to at least have other children.
+His/her memory will live on in my heart.
-His/her time was up. His/her death was meant to be.
+Can I take the kids to the zoo on Saturday?
-(say nothing and avoid all contact)
+I have been remembering you a lot lately and I love you.
-You are lucky to have had them in your life for as long as you did.
+I know he/she loved/relied on you a lot.
-At least they had a good life.
+He/she knew how much you loved him/her.
-I understand your pain. I lost someone once.
-You need to only remember the good and forget all the bad.
+Your hurt must be big right now.
-Grandpa is sleeping.

+(say nothing but give a hug)
-Keep your happy face on.
+What was it like when…?
-Life must go on.
+I love you and am proud of you.
-Now you are the head/leader of your house.
+I loved him/her too and will miss him/her.
-God needed him/her in heaven.
+Can I help you write a letter about your loss/grief?
-You must not speak ill of the dead.
-You are the man (woman) of the house now…buck up.
+I wish I had the right words. I just want you to know I care.
-I don’t want to hear details. I just want you better.
+Can I come by Wednesday evening to visit?
-Wow. You look sad/awful.
+I can’t take away your pain but I can be a friend.
-You need to keep a stiff upper lip.
+Have things happened to ease your pain?
-I could NEVER go through what you are right now.
+What have you done to deal with your grief/loss?
-Now that she/he is dead, you should get a pet.
+I was shocked to hear of your loss. I’m a friend who cares.
-You must feel as bad as I did when…..
+I am so sorry for your loss.

-Just stay busy and you will get by.
+Tell me about him/her.
-You must stop crying. You might upset someone.
+I feel so sad for you.
-You must be strong for others.
+What is something I can do for you this week?
-He/she must have brought this upon himself/herself.
+Your heart break must go deep.
-You need to be alone when you grieve.
+It breaks my heart to see you in such pain.
-You need to stop feeling bad/crying.
+I’m sure you cherish your time with him/her.
-Don’t burden others with your feelings.
+How have you been feeling this week?
-He/she is with God now.
+Is today a better day for you?
-All things must pass. Time will heal.
+I’m not sure what to say but I want you to know I care.
-You will find another to replace them.
+I can’t fix your hurts but I can be here for you.
-You can’t fall apart.
+Can I call you to chat on Saturday evening?
-“What is done, is done,” I always say.
+I am so sorry this is happening to you.

-This is a blessing in disguise.
+We have missed you lately.
-I have had a bigger loss then you so I know it is not as bad as it could be.
+May God bless you and give you strength and comfort.
-If you had more faith, he/she would not have died.
+What do you need most today?
-God does not give us more than we can handle.
+What would you like to say to him/her right now?
-You need to forget about him/her and move on.
+You must be hurting deeply.
-He/she is in a better place now.
+God mourns with those who mourn.
-It is too soon to face your grief.

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