I’ve been asked several times to write about the etiquette of grief yet have been reluctant to cover this subject. Even the phrase “etiquette of grief” sounds condescending. Etiquette is a set of social rules. The grieving process is one of the most powerful and life-changing experiences a person can encounter. I’ve taken entire courses in grad school covering the subject of grieving and, even in these classes, we barely scratched the surface. Grief can’t be made to fit into rules of etiquette. So, my goal with this post is not to cover this process. It is to stick with the question I’ve been asked and give suggestions about how to socialize with a grieving person with compassion and sensitivity:
- Acknowledge the loss The worst thing you can do is ignore what has happened. Acknowledgment can be as simple as, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” It’s better to keep it simple and sincere – grief is not very tolerant of verbal fluff. Also, send a card. This is one of those times in life that people need to see tangible signs of support and love.
- Be there Don’t disappear. Grief is hard to be around and, unfortunately, sometimes even well-meaning friends scatter to the winds. You can send an email or make a phone call while still respecting a person’s need for privacy and space.
- Be sensitive Grief is fickle. Sometimes people need to talk about their loss; sometimes they need to keep conversations light; sometimes they need to sit alone with their grief. Be sensitive and follow their lead.
- Don’t be sensitive If there was ever a time to ignore social slights, this is it. Forgive and forget unanswered calls, abrupt statements, or unaccepted invitations.
- Be the same person If you were a best friend and confidant before the loss, continue to be those things. If you were an acquaintance or coworker, don’t try to become a best friend or confidant.
I hope both that these tips are helpful to you and also that you have no need to use them.