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Grieving: Things Not to Say


When someone we know is grieving, we want to comfort them in some way. Many times, we choose to offer support verbally. When doing so, please remember these natural instincts that roll off the tongues of us all listed below – that are actually very damaging. These are things not to say:

*It’ll be okay.  — You do not know the outcome nor can you predict the future, so don’t use this common lie as a comforting measure.

*God needed them more than you. – Seriously? This is not appropriate in any case.

*If there’s anything I can do…you just let me know. – This is so generic, insincere, and can actually lead to anger & ill feelings toward you. Never ever say this unless you are seriously willing to help the mourning person for the rest of your life! If you say this, be ready to say YES if you’re asked for transportation, monetary help, emotional support, letter writing, employment referrals, catalog orders, holiday gatherings, babysitting, random unexpected visits at your home, legal support, etc. If you make this forever promise, you are the lowest form of existence if you say NO when someone mourning calls on you for assistance for the rest of their lives. This is the most common thing that people will say when they attend a funeral service and 98% of the time, they do not mean it in the least.  No matter how much restraint it takes on your part, absolutely do not say this if children are present! I was fortunate enough not to need anyone’s help and I did not call on anyone for several months for anything after losing my husband. But all the random people who made this comment to my children made life difficult. In a child’s mind, they thought that all those random people really would come to their aid for ANYTHING ANYTIME and they developed a sense of abandonment afterwards. If nothing else from this post sticks in your mind, remember this one!  (My children may not be typical. They knew from experience that when I made this comment, I made a commitment that I upheld the rest of that person’s life. They learned from my example and did not understand the concept that other people only said this because they couldn’t think of anything else to say.)

*Another angle got their wings back. – When someone says this it sounds as though they do not have a loving & studied relationship with my Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. It just sounds … weird.

*Time heals all wounds. – Even if this is true (which it is), this is not right to say to someone within the first year of mourning or grieving.

*He was a good man – Unless you knew this to be true, do not say this.

*She was a good woman – Unless you knew this to be true, do not say this.

*I am sorry for your loss. – Why? Unless you killed them or made them sick, why are YOU sorry? Although, I will say that this statement is received better than the previous “If there’s every anything I can do, you let me know”.

*God doesn’t give you more than you can bear. – Although this is true, it is not comforting to hear when mourning.

*Well…at least you’re young. – Yeah, that helps no one… ever 😦 How is that comforting to someone who is already upset about living a long life without their loved one they just lost?

*I know how you feel – Avoid this one at all cost unless you too have lost a relation in the exact same way. No, just don’t say this at all.

*Try not to cry. He/she wouldn’t want you to. – Excuse my lingo, but that is plain ol’ bull poop. Do you hope that no one mourns you when you pass away? Of course not, we all hope that we are loved enough that we are missed when we pass away. So, why would you say that to anyone?

* Okay, enough time has passed to put this behind you and move on. – I’ve heard that said to my children many times and it honestly infuriated me. It caused more hurt than help.

*It’s time to grow up now and stop crying. – This too has been said to my children and it caused far more harm than anything else. They were just kids!! Kids cry no matter their sex and it was OKAY.

*Something great will come from this. – Only say this if you can take a right hook to the jaw without blinking or budging from your spot. You’ve been warned.

*Don’t cry. It’ll upset the kids/parents/siblings/others. – Again, this causes more harm than good as it places unfounded guilt on the survivor for mourning. Everyone mourns in their own way. Words are powerful during grieving, chose your wisely.

So with all of this, what do you say? Keep it simple and sincere. The less you say, the better you are. Here is a list of very proper things to comfort someone mourning or grieving:

  • I love you (This is the absolute best thing you can ever say. Love heals!)
  • Call me if you need to talk. (Be careful though, don’t say this unless you are ready for the phone calls.)
  • I’ll pray for you.
  • I’m praying for you and your family.
  • God hasn’t left you. (This one can be tricky. If you say this, be ready for mixed emotions unless you know the person’s personal faith.)
  • It’s okay to cry.
  • It’s okay to scream.
  • It’s okay to be angry.
  • It’s okay to write your thoughts.
  • He/she knew you loved them.
  • Are you okay? (Since this is a question, be ready for no response or a lengthy period in which you just sit silently and listen without judging them.
  • Nothing/Silence (Sometimes the only thing a person needs is physical comfort – such as: a hug, holding a hand, sitting near them, or standing near them.)

Something people often forget to do:

  • Follow up – Many people will go on with their lives and forget about the mourning/grieving person after a week or two. If your memory is bad, make a reminder for yourself to check in on them a couple of months after the event. This will mean much more than flowers at a funeral, empty comments at a graveside, or cards in the mail immediately following. All you have to do is not forget them in the first year. Simple 🙂

Comments on: "Grieving: Things Not to Say" (29)

  1. As I read this I thought back to funerals I have been to….
    I always hugged people, and just flat out said I really don’t know what to say. I love you!
    May not be the total right thing to say, but at least I was genuine and meant what I said. I must admit afterwards I have said the ol’ I’m here if you need me and I meant it. I guess I didn’t realize what I was promising…. And with the exception of lately since I have had two little ones, I was always available for the late night phone calls/texts if I was awake or the phone woke me 😉

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    • Saying those things means a lot if they are sincere and you mean them. (I’m sure you did mean them!) For some people, it’s hard to come up with something to say, so they pass off meaningless comments in hopes of escaping the sad/hurting person or cause it’s just awkward. I like your comment about saying, “I don’t know what to say.” too! 🙂

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  2. Glenda Summers said:

    Thank you for this helpful post. I generally just do a sincere hug, and depending on how much I know about the deceased and/or family, make a comment about a life well-lived and love for the family. I have also been known to say “there are just no words…”, which I know is not really helpful, but I hope is not hurtful, either. I have been in a position to take the grieving spouse out for dinner occasionally or take a special dish to her home when invited for a meal. Hopefully, I’ll be much more aware of my comments in the future. Nobody has a right to limit anyone’s grief!

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  3. Thank you —-It is so hard to know what to say and what to do… You want to help — you want to make them happy again and you know you are totally inadaquate to do so… So you just blurt out the least damaging thing you can think of… in hope that it will do more good than harm. You are a wonderful and amazing woman, and I feel privledged that you have permitted peaks into your life, and your healing. It has been an education.. Ginger.

    p.s. — While I know now better what to say to the person/persons I came to the funeral for, what do I say to the rest of them that I do not know or at least not as well?

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    • Honestly, I’m not sure. Until my husband passed I had never really paid attention to anything said when a relation passed away. I have lost grand parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc, but during those funerals it was just as awkward for me (as family of the deceased) as it was for the random strangers coming through the receiving line 😦
      Tradition was just a hand shake which acknowledged grief and an occasional “bless you” that was uttered. It’s different when you are distanced some from the loss I suppose.
      One things for sure though, no one ever uttered the things not to say on this page when I was just a family member during a loss. That was a blessing.
      I had a hard time writing this particular post because I had to go through my memories & drag up the unpleasant ones to associate it with. I wrote this to fulfill a promise to a much loved friend who has suddenly found herself in grief. When grief is new to someone, they will beat themselves up over their own feelings. I promised to show her she was not alone in thinking she was hearing disturbing things from people who simply don’t know what to say 😦
      I was most fortunate. I experienced far more love from hundreds of people. Love I never thought I could possibly deserve. I was blessed beyond belief & blessed to know in my heart that many folks saying the things listed here just didn’t know what to say 🙂

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  4. it is so hard to know what to say at a time like this. I almost find myself sometimes trying to avoid the person that is grieving,because I am so uncomfortable ad unsure, and I know that is the wrong thing to do. I think just being there, acknowledging their loss and heartache is the best we can do. (Kim Hix)

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  5. You have given a great deal of thought to this painful subject. Your words are so well chosen and your advice so heartfelt. Virginia

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    • Thank you Virginia. It was not easy to write for fear of offending some, but then again, these things are never easy to discuss. I appreciate your words of encouragement.

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  6. Great advice. When I think of the platitudes I have heard people say, I’ve cringed inside, knowing the person saying the words doesn’t mean them, even if they mean well. Sometimes it is better to not say anything unless you intend to follow through.

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  7. I understood all you wrote about… I just shared it on my Facebook page.

    I thank you for following my blog… I just saw you, tonight. I’m glad to get to come here, to see this post.

    I have experienced so many of the comments… I wrote about them on my blog. I lost my son, and I was told that my grieving would be over in 3 weeks, and I should be all right.

    I was told that my son was in a better place…

    I was told by people who’ve never lost anyone, that they understood.

    I never said anything to them, because my grief was so much. But… I heard them, I never forgot them. They only made my grief ‘more’…

    I think the safest thing to say sincerely, is simply: I care

    I care that you’ve lost your husband. I know how grief feels, I live with it every minute of my life. I do channel it in a positive way by writing. Love, Granny Gee/Gloria (come to visit my primary blog, also, at: happycolorsandgrannygee.blogspot.com)

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  8. I think your comment – about “not forgetting them” – is so essential and so often overlooked. When my mom passed away – the funeral was in the town where my brother lived. Everyone sent flowers, and cards to his home…….. I flew home and cards, and condolences kept pouring in evidently to his home……. I got home – alone – and only 1 or 2 good friends remembered me… While I don’t fault the others – I was SO grateful for the few who thought to remember that I wasn’t in the town where she died – she was still MY mother, and I loved her and missed her just as much as other family members. 6 months later I was barely beginning to cope. Six months – 5 years… You learn to adjust – but you always miss them. Until you’ve been through loss – you don’t understand how real that is.

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  9. This is a subtle reminder to all of us. I think people don’t know what to say so they just say the most common things. I like what you said about just a hug, hold hands or sit next to… this is indeed the only solace a person can genuinely accept when grief stricken. I lost my older sister to suicide and I remember there was nothing anyone could say, but I needed friends who would just be there, silently, while I cried.
    You are also right that grief has no time limit. 5 years later and I still mourn, even if others aren’t aware.

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    • Thank you for your sharing your experience with us. It’s not an easy subject to discuss and one many people would rather avoid all together. I appreciate your thoughts and thank you for commenting.

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  10. I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but telling someone who has lost a loved one that “He lived such a good, long life. You were lucky to have had him for so long,”DOESN’T HELP AT ALL! Both of my maternal grandparents died at 99. It was so difficult when they passed because I had them in my life for SO many years. The loss was in some ways even more profound because somehow it seemed that they would never die.

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  11. So freaking true!! People just don’t know what to say sometimes and death makes for awkward conversations 🙂 I was at the point if someone gave me one more little garden stone, wind chime, or something in remembrance, I was going to scream.

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    • I feel for you honey! There is nothing about grieving that is not awkward. I guess it’s like that by design? I’ll pray for you that you can overcome your PTSD too! 🙂

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  12. Lovely post and advice! We tend to say the silliest, no stupidest things at times of mourning due to our own discomfort with death. After losing significantly close people, I felt humbled at some things I may have said thinking I was helpful…I learned more through children I worked with at Bereaved Families. And you’re right, sometimes just saying nothing, giving a compassionate hug is enough. I look forward to reading more on your blog, thanking you for visiting mine. Whispering Insights

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  13. I vowed never to say I’m sorry to them again. If it happens to interest….I have a poem

    “bereft” on my Most Popular list.

    Xxx Diana

    Like

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