How to Talk to Someone Who’s Grieving

It’s easy to imagine that when someone has cancer, it’s like the inglorious picture painted by cyclist Lance Armstrong. Vomiting and other unmentionable things happening to your body, just like a really bad flu.

In reality, it can be much more like a recurring nightmare that grips its scaly claws onto you and every single one of the people you love until the life has been sucked out of you.

You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

My dad passed away on May 12 at 11 a.m. He was 53 years old. It was the end to his seven-year off-and-on battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

For me, the grieving process started before he was even gone. There came a point when we knew he wasn’t going to make it.

If you know someone that’s battling cancer, has a family member who is, or recently lost someone to it, I guarantee they’ve heard all of the classic sympathies multiple times. I’d recommend avoiding them. Saying “cancer sucks” or “let me know if you need anything” are not always great options.

Also, you know those sad sympathy eyes? The ones that people give you when they feel bad for you? Yeah, don’t do that either.

Being sympathetic is okay, but I guarantee the person who’s grieving is tired of seeing those eyes. They’re just a sad reminder of being sad. Being sad gets old and exhausting and they’re probably trying not to feel sad as much as possible.

Saying “cancer sucks” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Chanting it to the person suffering through the ordeal won’t make it any better, either. They know it sucks better than most. They don’t need to be reminded of it.

I’ve heard a lot of “I’m sorry,” or something along those lines and it’s a very good option. It’s a tough situation for everyone and it’s hard to know what to say. Nobody wants to go through it and it’s hard to watch someone you know go through it. So, it’s okay to just be sorry. I’m sorry, too.

Let them know they don’t need to respond if you decide to reach out to them through a means other than face-to-face. It can be overwhelming when there’s a lot of people reaching out to offer their condolences. Take some pressure off of them by letting them know they don’t need to get back to you.

Another thing is, you don’t need to offer to “let me know if you need anything.” If they’re anything like me, there’s a good chance that they don’t even know what they need.

If you’re serious about the offer of being there for them, bring something to the table. Take them out for a meal or be a listening ear. Ask to go out to coffee or join them on their errands.

They’re likely overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts, just trying to get through one day at a time. Having someone there with them can help ease that. Don’t try to force company on them if they decline though.

Everybody has their own way grieving.

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