Consoling a grieving friend doesn't have to be awkward

Author and illustrator Emily McDowell on how to navigate others' grief.

'All the person needs is you to be present and listen,' says Emily McDowell

Sometimes just being there can help someone struggling with grief or illness. (Shutterstock)

It's hard to know what to say when a friend or colleague is struggling with grief. In such cases, common phrases like "My condolences" never seem to do the trick. 

But Emily McDowell, who created a line of Empathy Cards, thinks there are more meaningful things we can say.

Emily McDowell's line of Empathy Cards helps people find the right thing to say to support someone struggling with grief. (Submitted by Emily McDowell)

"I don't think we ever learn what to say when we're talking about death and illness. So when something bad comes up, our first instinct is to freeze and then try to make it better. But that's not actually what people need," McDowell told Tapestry guest host Christa Couture. 

Far better, she said, to acknowledge someone is having a hard time and let them know they have your support. 

Nothing's perfect

"The fear of saying the wrong thing is strong. It comes down to feeling inadequate, and we hate to feel inadequate. But not saying anything at all makes the other person think you don't care," McDowell said. "Encourage them to say what they need to say, to be seen and be heard by you."

McDowell believes there isn't one perfect thing to say. This is scary — but it can also be freeing. 

"All the person needs is you to be present and listen. And be willing to acknowledge what they're going through. It's saying, 'I'm so sorry. How is that for you?'"

Empathy Cards

McDowell's Empathy Cards aren't like other sympathy cards.They strive to make people feel seen, with humour and honesty.

Here are just a few examples:

Click LISTEN to learn more about what you can say — and do — to help someone struggling with grief. 

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