Most times the best comfort someone can give a friend, during the loss of a loved one, is a listening ear.
When I lost my own father, in June of 2003, friends and family tried their best to comfort me by saying things like, 'I know how you feel,' or 'The pain will go away,' or 'You'll feel better soon.' At that moment, even though their intentions were good, they did not ease my pain. If anything they made me feel as though I shouldn't feel what I felt or that my pain was a normal everyday occurrence.
No one could ever know how I was feeling, even if they have lost a parent or gone threw a similar experience but without the same circumstances. They may understand some of the pain but to say they know how I feel is wrong. They couldn't possibly know because they didn't have my relationship with my father. Everybody's relationship with a parent is different therefore, everyone grieves the same loss differently and at different times. Take siblings for instance, I have two of them and not a one of us experienced the same pain at the same time. We lost the same person but each of us had our own feelings of loss to work threw.
As far as saying, "The pain will go away" or "You'll feel better soon," my thoughts at the time of loss were so consumed with grief that imagining a time when I would not hurt was impossible. I didn't think I'd ever be a whole person again or anything even close to it. My thought was, how does the pain ever go away when I now have to live the rest of my life without that person who meant the world to me?
My all time favorite bad saying when I lost my Dad was when a cousin of his came up after the funeral and said, "You look so much more relieved and relaxed now that your father is gone." I was absolutely horrified and so completely filled with guilt that I couldn't even reply back. My father had been diagnosed with cancer two months to the day before he died. My family and I took care of Dad during those last months at our home with the help of hospice. This particular cousin had shown up to visit him at our home shortly before he died. I had never seen this cousin before that day and I have not seen him since the day of the funeral but those words have stuck with me and have haunted me to this day.
Words at a time of loss are in most cases completely useless. They are hollow and even if given with the best of intentions seldom help the person experience grief. Which truly leaves those of us with a friend experiencing loss feeling helpless. I found that when someone just sat with me, whether I talked or not, was the best form of comfort anyone could have ever given me. Allowing me to cry, scream, yell or talk without offering false hope or saying something ridiculous was an excellent way to offer support during those times when words were useless. Most times what I needed was a sounding board. Just someone who would listen without judgment.
I never tried to talk to someone who hadn't lost a parent. They could never understand why I just couldn't 'get over it.' They couldn't understand why a year later the pain was as fresh as the day it happened. After all, it had been a year already, was all I ever heard them say. They couldn't understand why Christmas and Father's Day would be the toughest holidays. They couldn't even begin to grasp what it felt like to pick up a phone, calling home all excited to tell Dad some wonderful news and realizing the moment the call went threw that he wouldn't be there to answer. They could never understand the bottom of your heart emptiness felt in that moment.
There is so much more to grief and loss than most people realize. The real pain starts when everybody goes home after those initial first few days. All of a sudden you realize the world didn't stop because you were hurting and that somehow you have to find a way to keep going.
My suggestion to those who have a friend experiencing loss, would be to just be there for them, listen to them, and never offer advice. Please don't say, 'you'll feel better soon' because they can't grasp a time when they won't hurt. The first time they do actually feel less pain or they don't think of their loved one, they'll be consumed by guilt. A good friend will listen, they will be there and they will allow them to work threw their own pain at their own pace. The friend may feel helpless knowing there is nothing they can to do to make this process easier but know this, the best service you can ever give a grieving friend is a listening ear.