Heartbreak

The Common Phrase We Use When Someone Dies, But Doesn't Actually Help At All

Photo: RDNE Stock project / Pexels via Canva
friends comforting each other

Losing a loved one is an incredibly challenging and emotional experience. As friends and family, we often struggle to find the right words to offer comfort and support during these difficult times. 

One common phrase that frequently surfaces is, "If you need anything, let me know."

While this sentiment may be well-intentioned, it often falls short of providing the practical and emotional support that grieving individuals truly need. What's more, it only lasts a short time — and this type of body-wracking grief lasts for years in some cases. 

RELATED: Dr. Laura Berman Warns Parents After Her 16-Year-Old Son Dies After Taking Drugs Bought On Snapchat

Here are three reasons why "If you need anything, let me know" isn't helpful.

1. It's vague.

One of the main issues with the phrase is its vagueness. Grieving individuals may find it challenging to reach out and articulate their needs during such an emotionally charged time. 

They may appreciate the sentiment behind the offer, but the open-ended nature of the statement places the onus on them to identify and articulate their needs. Amid grief, this can be an exceptionally challenging task.

Dr. Laura Berman explains on the YourTango podcast Open Relationships: Transforming Together: "You don't know how to breathe. You don't know what will help. You don't know what to ask for."

The emotional burden they carry may hinder their ability to reach out, leaving them grappling with unspoken needs and unmet support. Which is not a good place to be in.

Instead, be specific about the support you are willing to provide. For instance, you could say, "I'm here to cook meals for you," or "I can help with grocery shopping this week." It can be anything as long as you are specific.

2. It puts the onus on the grieving person.

Grieving individuals may hesitate to burden others with their needs, even if the offer is sincere. We all know those people who refuse to be a burden and do everything themselves. Do not let these people be alone and feel unsupported through this troubling time.

A more proactive approach is to take the initiative in providing practical support. Offer to run errands, help with household chores, or take care of any immediate tasks that may be overwhelming for them. Do not give them the chance to dismiss you with, "No, you don't have to do that". Let them know that it would mean a lot to you to be able to help. 

One example Dr. Berman shares is of a friend offering to walk her dog. 

   

   

In this case, you could say, "I'd like to come by and walk you dog, would 4pm work?" and then, if your loved one says, "No, you don't have to!" you can say, "I would really like to, and I know you'd do the same for me."

Of course, the person may not want you to come by  and you need to listen to them. By offering something specific and making clear that you would very much like to help, you give them an opportunity to say yes if that's what they want. 

You can also let them know you'll be sending dinner by via a delivery service or simply dropping it at their door and let them know what time. That way they won't feel pressured to entertain you or invite you in if they need time alone. 

3. It doesn't acknowledge the griever's emotions.

Grief is a complex emotional process, and those mourning a loss often appreciate empathy and understanding. The phrase, "If you need anything, let me know," simply avoids talking about the griever's feelings or emotions. It even shuts down the opportunity to address what they are going through.

Of course they need things. They're grieving. They simply may not be able to convey their need. 

According to Dr. Berman, "Grief causes tremendous pain in the body and that's why, when you release your emotions, the pain often goes with it."

Instead, express your condolences and share a specific memory or something positive about the person who has passed away. Let them know that you are available to listen and offer a compassionate ear when they're ready to talk. Then show up when they are. 

RELATED: 15 Healthy Ways To Mourn When Someone You Love Is Suddenly Gone

Five things you should for a grieving loved one instead:

1. Create a supportive network.

Rather than leaving the burden on the grieving individual, coordinate with others to create a support network.

Collaborate with friends and family to ensure that various aspects of practical and emotional support are covered. This can include meal rotations, transportation assistance, or simply being present.

2. Plan on doing long-term support.

Grief is not a fleeting emotion, and the pain of loss can linger for a long time. Instead of limiting your support to the immediate aftermath, check in on your grieving friends and family regularly.

Offer ongoing support, whether it's a simple text, a phone call, or spending time together. Be prepared to remember these death anniversaries and be there for your friend or family for years to come.

You're not a failure if you cannot hop on a plane the day the tragedy or loss occurs. it would be helpful, yes, but grief isn't just a week-long thing. You can wait and help out later, when most other people have gone home and their home feels too quiet.

Dr. Berman suggests, "Yes, show up the first week and send the casseroles, but we get 80 casseroles and there isn't enough room in the freezer for them all, so wait a month and send a casserole then."

That goes for flowers, dog-walks, invitations for hikes or weekends away, and even impromptu deliveries of their favorite coffee drink.

Understanding that grief doesn't have a fixed timeline is crucial for providing sustained assistance that will go a long way.

RELATED: 4 Simple Ways Parents Can Survive The Death Of A Child

3. Be ready to listen to them.

Sometimes, what grieving individuals need most is someone who will listen without judgment. Express your willingness to lend an ear and provide a safe space for them to share their feelings and thoughts. Sometimes we feel drawn to talk to a hurting friend right after a tragedy or a loss, but a few months down the line that friend may need you more. 

But please remember to avoid advising unless they specifically ask for it. No one wants unsolicited advice — especially one who is grieving.

4. Tell them, "You may not be okay for a while."

This one is a bit out there but sometimes you need to make sure the one grieving hears you when you say, "You may not be okay, And that is okay."

Grief is something that can take you out of your normal.

Joanna Schroeder says in the same Open Relationships podcast, "Grief is such a wild thing. I remember not even knowing what was happening around me..." she said. That's when she started opening up to pretty much anyone, saying "One of my best friends just died and I'm just stupid right now, I'm not hungry, my stomach is always churning. I forget everything. It's grief."

When a friend said, "Yeah, you may not be okay for a while," she admitted that she felt enormous relief. 

5. Show up for them.

Dr. Berman nails it with her advice to "just show up" for your loved ones. When they're going through tough times, being present, either physically or emotionally, is a game-changer.

Little things like whipping up a meal, taking care of day-to-day tasks, or lending a hand with the nitty-gritty details can ease some of the heavy load that comes with grieving, like when Dr. Berman's friends would drop her favorite coffee off for her or walk her dog. These small actions of being there and lending a hand are what can be oh-so-important to the one grieving.

At the end of the day, being that reliable support system shows you're in it together, tackling the ups and downs of grief as a united front. It's about creating a sense of comfort and togetherness during the toughest moments life throws your way.

And if you are uncomfortable with the pain they are feeling or have no idea what to say, Dr. Berman has some advice on that too.

"You don't have to say anything," Dr. Berman continues," you could say, 'I have no words. I don't know what to say but I love you and I'm just gonna sit here next to you.'"

Losing someone close to you is an indescribably challenging experience, and our role as friends and family is to provide genuine and meaningful support. While the intention behind "If you need anything, let me know" is sincere, it often falls short in addressing the specific needs of grieving individuals.

Remember that each person's grief journey is unique, so be ready to adapt your support to the individual needs of those who are grieving.

RELATED: Why We Act Like Jerks During The 'Anger' Phase Of Grief 

Deauna Roane is a writer and the Editorial Project Manager for YourTango. She's had bylines in Emerson College's literary magazine, Generic, and MSN.