Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR READERS: Recently, responding to a question from "Reader," I asked people to suggest how to offer condolences to someone who is grieving. I have received many responses, and a sampling of your wisdom is included here. Many of these suggestions brought a tear to my eye, and I thank you all.
DEAR AMY: As someone who has both given and received condolences, I would say that someone who is grieving most wants to talk and/or to hear about the person whom he/she has lost. If you knew the deceased, relate something warm or amusing that you remember about him; if you didn't, ask the mourner to tell you something about the deceased. When my mother died, what was most comforting was speaking about her, feeling like she had not been erased from my life. Asking someone in mourning how they feel or telling them how they should feel isn't helpful, but allowing them to speak about the deceased and/or their feelings about their loss is.
Rabbi Dvora Weisberg
DEAR AMY: Nearly 60 years ago my 9-year-old friend walked up to me and said she heard that my mother had died and how sorry she felt. Then she hugged me. All these years later, I still remember how she made me feel: I wasn't alone. The exact words didn't matter.
DEAR AMY: What helped me most after my mother's death were the words that started, "I remember the time your mother..." My mother lingered for years and the stories helped me get past the long, sad times and back to wading in mountain streams, road trips and how her face would light up when she had a long-distance phone call with her sister.
DEAR AMY: As a grandmother who lost her 8-year-old grandson to brain cancer I am an expert on the subject, unfortunately. Please do not say phrases like: "Enough time has passed so you must be feeling better," or, "Don't you think it is time for you to get over your sadness?" Most people do not have a clue as to how the grieving person is feeling.
Still Grieving Grandmother
DEAR AMY: When my uncle died I wrote a note to my aunt reminiscing about the many times he had me laughing so hard it hurt! Not long after I got a letter back thanking me. Who wouldn't want to hear about how a departed loved one left a mark on your life?
DEAR AMY: After my son died, I appreciated these simple words: "I am so very sorry for you loss." Followed by something simple like, "He had the greatest smile." Anything beyond that was too much. Don't say something philosophical like, "God needed him in heaven." Don't ask how the grieving person is doing. That question requires a response that is too hard to make.
DEAR AMY: My mother died when I was a teenager, and my father killed himself years later. What would have been helpful (and what I do) is to tell the grieving person that their loved one mattered in your life. Even if you did not know the deceased that well you can share a good memory or story. People mistakenly think they shouldn't remind grieving people of their loved ones, so they never talk about them again. In my experience grieving people like to know their loved ones are remembered.
DEAR AMY: My heart swells when I have to reach out to people who are grieving. I'm a mortician's daughter and have been a hospice volunteer for eight years. I try to convey how important it is to take care of the caretaker. And give them the right to honor their grief.
DEAR AMY: After 40 years of marriage, my husband passed away unexpectedly this year. I have found a simple, "Sorry for your loss," to be most helpful. If we know each other well enough, a hug following it is welcome and comforting. No need for fancy words. Cards are welcome. I re-read them during my various stages of my grief walk.