One of the ironies of life is that when you are in greatest need of being in touch with other people, they choose to stay away from you.

People often tell me, “I found out that my friend is terminally ill, but I haven't spoken to him, because I don’t know what to say.” Or, “My best friend’s father died; we used to see each other every day, but now I avoid her, because I don’t know what to say.” I guess it’s like the bank—you will be lent money only if they are convinced you don’t need it!

When people are experiencing grief of any kind, whether because of the death of a loved one, divorce, debt, the loss of a limb, or even just the loss of a job, what they most importantly need is for their friends to be with them. They don’t expect their friends to change the situation or to make it any better. Nor would they want their friends to justify or belittle the feeling of loss by saying things like, “It’s not so bad,” “Some people have it worse than you,” “You can marry again,” et cetera. People in mourning simply need to be able to express their feelings and be heard.

After my mother passed away, some of the people who came to visit me tried to talk about all kinds of things in order to divert me from the pain I was feeling. However, what stands out in my mind the most, twelve years later, is one friend who simply gave me a big hug and said, “I love you and I’m sorry for your pain.” I then realized how important friends can be in times of sorrow and pain.

It is Jewish tradition that when you visit a house of mourning, you don’t say anything until the mourner speaks first. The message of this is that the purpose of your presence there is to allow the grieving person to express his or her feelings.

If you are like most people, who just don’t know what to say, simply acknowledge this as follows: “I don’t know what to say to you, but I am here because I want to be with you at this difficult time.” An appropriate touch or a hug can sometimes be more powerful than a thousand words.

Allowing the person to cry and express his or her emotions is an important stage in the grieving process. Tears are one of the gifts that G‑d has given us to help the healing process and allow us to eventually get on with our lives.

You don’t have to have a degree in psychology or grief therapy to be able to assist those in crisis. Just be there for them.