Loss: What to Say to Victims of Natural Disasters12 Sep 2017
Natural disasters, such as the multiple hurricanes and tornados last week, leave a wake of devastation. They destroy people's homes and crops, devastate lives, demolish communities, bankrupt businesses, and shatter our sense of safety. What do you say to someone dealing with an enormous loss?
"People don't know what to say to someone who is heartbroken. It's not their fault. No one has taught them what to say. If you say the wrong thing, you can actually make matters worse," said Aurora Winter, grief expert and founder of the Grief Coach Academy.
To comfort someone who is heartbroken, start by listening. "It's important for you to know what an enormous gift you give by simply listening. It is a relief to a heartbroken person to talk about their loss," says Aurora Winter, author of From Heartbreak to Happiness.
For example, people might share their heartbreak over losing family photographs, a treasured family heirloom, or a pet. They might share their feelings of being overwhelmed at having to return to a devastated property and begin the process of rebuilding. They might share their financial fears.
"When you listen without fixing, you are being a true friend. Be patient and allow people to vent their feelings," says Aurora. "Don't argue with a person's feelings. Don't interrupt to 'problem solve.' Having a sounding board helps people discover their own answers and their own solutions."
Here are Aurora's suggestions for some good things to say.
- You're not alone - I'm here.
- I'm grateful that you are alive.
- It's understandable that you're upset. That's a normal and natural reaction to this situation.
- I don't know what to say.
- I can't imagine what you're going through.
- My heart goes out to you.
- You're capable and competent. I know you can handle this challenge. I've seen you overcome other challenges. I am here for you.
- I appreciate our friendship and I'm glad that you are sharing with me. You can call me anytime.
- Would you be willing to consider that something good may be unfolding here, in spite of appearances? What could that possibly be?
- Imagine things go perfectly from now on. What would be an ideal outcome one year from now? What could you be enthusiastic about?
- What specifically can I do to support you?
- Don't feel bad.
- It must have been God's will.
- It's your fault. You should have...
- I know how you feel.
Aurora's book "From Heartbreak to Happiness" is her intimate diary of healing after her husband died suddenly at the age of 33, leaving her widowed with a 4-year-old son.