How to Talk to Someone Grieving

Dr. Patrick O'Malley-Healing GriefMany years ago I was in a men’s group. One of our group had recently experienced the death of his dad.

The leader asked this man if he was “back on track” after the month had passed since his dad’s death. The fellow, who was a soft-spoken sort, looked confused as to how to answer the question. He stammered a moment and then stated he guessed so.

This moment stuck with me for two reasons. One was the assumption that continuing to experience sadness from the loss was not on track. The other was the impact of how a closed-ended question can shut down the response of the mourner. Questions such as “Are you ok?” “How are you, good?” “Are you back on track?” do not leave the griever much room to respond.

It is a small change of words, but “How are you?” and “How you have been?” encourages grievers to say as much or as little about the experience as they wish.

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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