St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church - Naperville, IL

The Art of Consolation

From the Behavioral Health Ministry

by Judith Weinstein, Chicago Tribune, chicagotribune.com

“She’s in a better place”. “It’s God’s will”. And other things you shouldn’t say or do when someone dies.

I am writing a lot of sympathy cards these days. If you are middle aged like me, chances are you are, too. And even if you’re not, you may have experienced the death of a parent or perhaps an untimely and unfair death from an accident, suicide or violence. My father’s death when I was 23 was the first major upset to my world. But it also revealed the truly humane ways people can provide consolation and primed me for an avocation of doing the same for others. Here is what I have learned about the art of consolation:

  • Just listen: Don’t talk more than the bereaved even if you have experienced a similar loss
  • Avoid trite expressions: Pat phrases, like the two above, can make the bereaved bristle
  • Cut people some slack: Explaining about the loss to ‘everyone’ allows pain to be expressed
  • Write or talk about what you know: Share something positive the bereaved might not know about their loved one

A template for writing a card:

  • Express your condolences, say you are sorry or saddened or devastated
  • Don’t use euphemisms for death, passed away, moving on, loss, in a better place
  • Tell the bereaved something about the deceased that they might not know, such as how the person helped you or made an impact on you or made you feel
  • Don’t make a vague offer of help, such as, “If there is something I can do”. Just do something you think will help (bring food, walk the dog)
  • A word about social media, “Don’t take the lead on social media; follow the lead of the bereaved on social media, as well as in real life.”
  • There is no statute of limitations on grief, according to Joshua Magariel, national director of patient experience at Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care. There is talk about closure in the grieving process. “We might say there is closure for bank accounts, but not for love accounts. Love and relationships are enduring.”

If you have experienced the death of a loved one and would like support please contact Jan Olah in Pastoral Care here at St. Thomas, 630.355.8980, x124.