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  • Writer's pictureGrief Specialists

Questions of Loss: When is it ok to switch to the past tense?

Suggestions for how to talk about a loved one after they have died


Questions of Loss: When is it ok to switch to the past tense?

Coping with the change of tense when someone dies can be challenging, as it often feels like another layer of loss every time you speak about them in the past tense.


Here are some suggestions for coping with this change and etiquette for addressing someone else's loved one after they have died:


1. Acknowledge the Difficulty

Recognise that shifting to the past tense can be painful, and it's okay to feel that way. It's a natural part of grieving.


2. Practice Self-Compassion

Be gentle with yourself as you work through these changes. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and give yourself time to adjust to speaking about your loved one in the past tense.


3. Share Memories

Sharing memories of your loved one can help keep their spirit alive and provide comfort. Talk about the positive experiences you had together and the impact they had on your life.


4. Use Their Name

Continuing to use the name of the person who has died can help keep their memory alive and keep their presence in your life.


5. Be Mindful of Others

When addressing someone else's loved one after they have died, it's essential to be respectful and sensitive to their feelings. Use the past tense when referring to the person who has died and offer your condolences.


6. Listen and Validate

If someone is struggling with the change in tense or expressing their grief, listen to them with empathy and validate their feelings. Let them know that it's okay to feel the way they do and ask if they would prefer you to use the present tense. Be led by them.


7. Offer Support

Be there for your friends or family members who are grieving by offering your support and being a compassionate presence during this difficult time.


8. Respect Cultural Differences

Be mindful that different cultures have varying customs and beliefs surrounding death and grieving. Respect these traditions when interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds.


If you're finding it challenging to cope with the change of tense or addressing someone else's loved one after they have died, consider seeking support from our grief specialists.


Talking to others who have experienced similar loss can provide valuable perspective and help you feel less alone in your grief.

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