When the moment arrives to give condolences, much of what we’ve been taught to say is best kept in a dark, airless room until we’ve thought better of saying it. Which can make even the bravest among us feel just a tad tongue-tied, in the, I’ll-never-get-this-right sort of way. And then what? Say nothing? Again?
Or instead, consider radical kindness as a starting point. But everyone has a different view of what’s actually kind, right? Some might say tough love is kind—and for a coddled teenager who’s avoiding doing their chores, tough love may be the kindest response we can take.
However, there’s nothing coddling nor kind about grief. Our griever’s love for their deceased is about as tough love as it gets. Their person that they got to do kind and loving things for is gone. This person who they got to share their life with is gone.
Grievers don’t need to be shaken up out of their misery with suggestions or silver linings—grief is already shaking them to their very core.
Every minute. Even in their dreams. Even when they’re smiling. Do we really want to add to their misery by shaking them with our very well-intentioned, but often unconscious condolences?*
Don’t you think it’s time to move on? 👎
Jerry would want you to be happy. 👎
God only gives us as much as we can handle. 👎
For me, grieving the loss of my kids has been the most demanding process of my life. No time-outs for years on end, no map for how grief ever resolves, and 24/7 trying to navigate the road of life with its switch-backs between relaxed open driving to dark, tight curves of sobbing. Then repeat.
If grievers need anything from us, it’s a break. A break from their hidden worries that they’re too damn much for their friends, or that they’re doing their grieving wrong. A break from hiding the fact that they spend 99% of their day living with a gooey, dark blanket of sadness slopped over their heart. And, a break from the humiliation that their bouts of bursting into tears in public places can cause them.
We can give grievers this break by offering them radical kindness in our condolences.
How do we do this, and why must it be so radical?
We offer radical kindness by learning to accept and forgive our grieving friend’s behavior that isn’t consider acceptable in any non-grieving social group outside of possibly Yemen or an indigenous tribe at the Arctic Circle.
Since our culture doesn’t condone mourning—the outward expressions of grief such as loud wailing in, say, a restaurant—only an act that’s radically more kind than normal can help shift the most entrenched pillar of our culture: You cause a scene at the dinner table and you go to your room without a meal. This is our bedrock training we’re trying to shift.
So, in those embarrassing moments when a grieving friend cries “inappropriately,” if we can shift into radical kindness, then our condolences can reassure our griever that, Grief picks its own time and place, so I’m here for you, 👍 or, You have a right to cry whenever you need to, 👍 then our grieving friend is receiving the exact type of kindness that helps. Radical kindness. (For more condolences, see my Condolences Pocket Guide.)
Why do I call this type of kindness radical? Because it’s radical for us.
Since my losses, when I’ve been the friend of a griever, I discovered it takes some stones to learn to listen deeply and from the heart. This is particularly true when my boss, spouse, or some of my other relationships aren’t offering this type of deep listening to me. Radical kindness asks us to dig deep into our own reserves that may feel depleted by life already, and then offer kindness anyway.
Why is radical kindness so essential to saying helpful condolences? Because grievers are at rock bottom. They’ve got nuthin’. They can’t help us understand them, they can’t defend themselves against our misguided and intrusive bits of advice and they can’t hold up their half of our friendship for a very long time.
This is the rub with the radical kindness needed to offer helpful condolences.
The very thing that grievers struggle with—of thinking they’re not ok in their messy, circuitous path of grief—the very thing that they need reassurance from us about, we may not have offered to ourselves yet!
Yet we must. Somehow. In the moment. Or we’ll end up offering harmful condolences instead, without realizing it or knowing why.
Be glad for the blessing of your other kids. 👎
At least he went quickly. 👎
Well the divorce was your idea, remember? 👎
(For more condolences, see my Condolences Pocket Guide.)
Grievers are in a new life with new goals centered around learning to live without their loved one. Added to that, grief is their new, pushy roommate who’s moved in unceremoniously and isn’t leaving any time soon. So, grievers are also learning to live with an unwelcome houseguest: grief. And that’s a full-time job.
A grieving person is starving for kindness, listening, compassion, understanding and acceptance—and they have little of that to offer us in return. So, we must offer it to them over and over again in the form of generous-spirited, forgiving, tolerant condolences. It’s on us to Be a Bridge to them, not the reverse. It’s our moment to be of service to them if we are to truly help.
So, check out our Conversation to get support for saying helpful condolences, make a comment below, and take a look at my pocket guide to condolences to get the support you need to Be a Bridge to your griever!
*Due to the numerous cultural and personal variables within each of us, we must each find our own words for our condolences. Those suggested here are offered as guidelines developed after years of listening to grievers speak their mind and heart.
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Did I mention I wrote a book?