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Natural disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, or the Mississippi river flood 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,” said Winter, who authored “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, a grief expert. “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.”

Suggestions for some good things to say.

Do 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 know things look bleak right now, but things are going to get better. This too shall pass.

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 say:

Don’t feel bad.

It must have been God’s will.

It’s your fault. You should have…

I know how you feel.

It just takes time.

“Time alone does not heal. The right actions heal. Be proactive,” said Winter, who hosts events to help people recover from loss. “Healing is a process, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If I can go from heartbreak to happiness, you can, too.”



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