What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving

 

So often we find ourselves stressing out about saying the right thing to a friend or family member who has experienced the death of a loved one.  We don’t want to make the griever sad, we really don’t want to make them angry, and we do so desperately want to make things better.  But alas, we aren’t all walking Hallmark cards and we don’t always know the exact right words to say. Pressures off, though, because grief isn’t something you can fix simply by turning an eloquent phrase.  In the beginning, you can’t make it even a little bit better.

The good news is that grief isn’t something you can fix by turning an eloquent phrase.  In the beginning, you can’t make it even a little bit better. So you can stop worrying about taking away your loved one’s pain because it isn’t going to happen. Instead, focus on keeping it simple and saying it with compassion – hopefully, if you do this, your loved one will see that you care.

Okay so, here’s the bad news.  I would guess most people who’ve experienced a loss can come up with at least 1 or 2 examples of something someone has said that d, in fact, make them feel alienated, misunderstood, sad or angry.  I’m sorry to say well intentioned people say the wrong thing all the time and grieving people are not always in the best place to see the good intention behind the comment.  So obviously the potential to say the ‘wrong thing’ does exist.

For this reason, we present to you a brief list of ‘what not to say’Obviously this list is not all-inclusive, everyone is different and our sensitivities are not all the same.  Your friend may get upset if you tell them the sky is blue.  Or you may have a family member whose feathers are never ruffled.  You know the individual, so it’s up to you to be the judge.

These are merely suggestions based on personal experiences and years of working with grieving individuals who have shared the statements that they find most ‘cringe-worthy’.


what not to say to a griever“I know how you feel”

A griever thinks: No you don’t

I know I know…you also lost a husband/daughter/son/grandmother/best friend/dog/cat/canary/whatever…it doesn’t matter.  You do not know how your friend feels, and even if you did, it is not what they need to hear.  No two people are the same.  No two losses are the same.  It is useless comparing grief.  I get it, you just want them to feel like you relate.  But at this moment they cannot imagine anyone knows how they feel.


“He/she is in a better place now”

A griever thinks: Who cares!? I want him/her to be here. 

Though many people find comfort in the belief their loved one is in a better place, immediately following a loss is not always the right time to say it. After losing my dad I heard this all the time and I remember thinking, he is supposed to be here—there is no better place.


“It will get easier”

A griever thinks: That seems impossible or I don’t want to forget the person I love.  

Remember, this list is not about things that aren’t true.  It is about things that aren’t helpful to say.  Realistically, things probably will get easier.  But when someone is in the unimaginably deep, dark hole of grief, they just want you to acknowledge the pain.  What’s worse is that for many people this initial pain is deeply connected to the person who died and starting to heal will feel like they are forgetting or ‘moving on’.


“At least you have other children” or “you can always have more children”

A griever thinks:  I don’t want another child, I know I still have my other children, but I lost THIS child.

Sometimes life just sucks.  Out of desperation to find a silver lining we end up grasping onto whatever we can think of, but often times it’s just better to say nothing.  Comments like these take away from the importance of the child and the loss.  Not only this, it may make the parent feel guilty about devaluing their other children.


“You can always remarry”

A griever thinks: I just lost the person I planned to spend the rest of my life with.  I am still in love.  I’m not interested in anyone else.

Again, projecting into the future is useless.  When someone is acutely grieving they may be experiencing symptoms very similar to depression, and depressed people often have a hard time imagining a future where things are better.  They may date again in the future, but I promise you they can’t even consider this right now so there’s no point in talking about it.    


“At least she/he lived a long life”

A griever thinks: Is that supposed to make me miss him/her less?

Again, this list isn’t about things that are not true, it is about things that aren’t helpful to say.  Living a good, long life does not diminish the pain of the loss. Regardless of the deceased’s age, the hurt and pain may be unbearable.  Share memories, reminisce about their life, but do not imply that it should make this loss easier.


“It was God’s will”, “God has a plan”,  or “Everything happens for a reason”

A griever thinks:  Why is this God’s plan? Why would God make us suffer? I don’t care if its God’s plan, it sucks.

Though many take comfort in a greater plan, a death can cause many people to question God, their understanding of God’s omni-benevolence, and their faith in general.  This can be the case even for people who have extremely deep faith.  For those who don’t, it can feel distant and alienating.  So, better safe than sorry – steer clear.


“God never gives us more than we can handle”

A griever thinks: Oh yeah? How do you know? Oh yeah? Easy for you to say.  Oh yeah?  My [son couldn’t handle his addiction][daughter couldn’t handle her depression][husband couldn’t handle his cancer].

See comments above re: “God’s will” statement.


“Don’t cry” or “You need to be strong now”

A griever thinks: I can’t stop.  I want to cry.  I need to cry.  I can’t be strong.  You think I am a bad mother/father/son/daughter. 

We all grieve in our own way – some people will cry.  A lot.  Some people won’t.  There is no right or wrong way, and however someone is grieving they should feel supported to cry as much as they want to, and not feel they are being judged for it.   Many will already be feeling a lot of anxiety about handling this the ‘right’ way with the children.  You do not need to exacerbate it with the pressure of containing their emotions.

Another important note is that crying in front of children is not a bad thing.  Children will take their cues from adults regarding when and how they can grieve the loss.  Hiding emotions can be confusing for children and may make them feel like they have to do the same.


“It could be worse.  I know this person who . . .” 

A griever thinks: I don’t care! I am in the worst pain imaginable, why are you talking to me about someone else? 

This is not a time for comparisons.  Each person’s grief is relative and excruciatingly painful.  Knowing someone has it ‘worse’ does not change the severity of the pain and it doesn’t make someone feel this loss any less.


“You can always get another dog/cat”

A griever thinks: My cat is not disposable or replaceable.

Do not underestimate pet loss. They are not replaceable and getting another dog/cat will not change the pain of this loss.  They may get another animal, they may not.  Either way, wait for them to decide.

I bet some of you are thinking that this list is wrong because you’ve actually heard your grieving friend or family member say some of the things on this list.  It’s true!  Many grievers do often say things like “he is in a better place now” or “ at least she lived a long life.”  Sometimes it’s hard to know how someone will make sense of a loss or where they will find comfort, take your cues from them.

And if you read through the list and thought, “uh oh, I’ve said comment 2, 6, and 10 don’t beat yourself up about it.  The good news is that many times grievers won’t remember a darn thing you said to them.  It’s hard to support someone who is going through a tough time and like we said before, if you are caring and compassionate, this should shine through.

For those of you who are feeling frustrated because you just really want to make things better, here’s what you can do: think of simple ways you can help make your loved ones life easier.  Watch their kids, organize people to collect funds for burial costs, pre-pay and have a couple of pizzas sent over to their house.  I guarantee they are far more likely to remember gestures like these than the words you used at the viewing.

Looking for some ideas of other things you can do and how to be a supportive friend in the weeks to come?  Click here.

Better yet, pick up our ebook on how to support a grieving friend (without sticking your foot in your mouth!). Don’t worry, it is cheap and jam packed with helpful info (no angels, rainbows, inspirational quotes, or fluff — just helpful tips). You can find it here.

July 12, 2017

46 responses on "What Not to Say to Someone Who's Grieving"

  1. Also with pet loss after the pet was sick for some time: Never suggest or say the griever must be glad now that they don’t have to take care of the animal anymore. I lost my cat of fifteen years after he was in an out of hospitals for months. Surgeries, procedures, shots, pills, 3 a.m. runs to the ER, oxygen tanks, etc. The final month was one of desolation, despair and unimaginable heartache. My mother-in-law said, after he died, “well I’m sure you’ll miss him, but not all of the time needed to take care of him.” Of course I miss him, but all of the care I gave him is part of my love for him and I’d do it over a million times if I had to, despite how difficult it was. I thought it was presumptuous and insensitive to tell me how sure she was that I felt a certain way.

  2. I want to start by saying that I am no stranger to grief, I’ve had that rollercoaster punch to the gut that takes my breath and strength away and I know I always will.
    I also know the post loss irrational feelings of guilt, I fight that battle most nights.
    Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a friend I had not kept up with closely. The first person I saw was her husband and to say he was suffering would be an understatement, however he opened up to me and told me that they had separated and was trying to tell me why they were separated and so on. I considered this none of my business, but sensed he was expressing guilt over having separated from his wife and his shock that he would now never be able to reconcile that rift. He also expressed feelings that others were blaming him or not wanting him there at the funeral.
    I’m not a judgmental person. As a nurse, the desire to provide comfort was strong. What I ended up doing is telling him that his feelings were valid, that I was glad that he would not be alone in the months to come (he said a family member would be with him), and that grief counseling would be a great benefit to him. I told him that memories will keep him alive, and that living is the best tribute you could give to someone you truly loved that has gone before you. I told him he needed to talk when he was ready, and to never ever let anyone tell him when it is time to stop having these feelings.
    I pray I said the right things. The fact is that I know I will not be there for him and so there was no way I would promise that. But I wanted him to get help and to survive, he has the tools but he must use them. I’ve been bothered about this all night and all day today, praying I did the right thing.

  3. In the weeks since we lost our daughter, it’s become clear that many who don’t want to talk about her death have a code they use. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” actually means “Don’t go bothering me with your grief, just be your ‘normal’ self.” It’s a very painful way of finding out who your real friends are and how few they are in number…

  4. “Let go”. Those two little words have haunted me since I read them in a post about my son who hadn’t even been gone a full month yet…and to make matters worse, those words, “let go” were said by a woman who called herself “grandma”. She was the mother of my son’s stepmom and this was her reply to a poem titled “Don’t Cry For Me” that my son’s younger half brother put on his Facebook page. She responded, “Let go, Mijo. He is in a better place now”. To which he responded, “Thanks, grandma, you’re right, I will let go”. When I saw that it made me physically sick to my stomach and physically pained in my heart. “Let go”….This much I know.. that although unimaginable still at this point…in time..MY time..I WILL be ok and I WILL learn how to live my life, just differently….but I will NEVER “LET GO”. My son will be with me for the rest of my life, in everything I do moving forward. He will always be with me and a part of me. Don’t EVER tell me to “Let Go”.

  5. I might add, as major holidays approach, let the mourner lead…Don’t wish them a Happy Easter or Merry Christmas unless they wish you one first. And when you reply, say something like: I wish for you happy memories of those holiday’s with your loved one.

  6. I told my coworker after his 90 year old mother died – “she had a great run didn’t she”?

    Any thing wrong with that?

  7. Reading this has confirmed what I already felt, that there are some people who probably mean well but don’t (can’t?) think. Last month, we lost our daughter with no warning and, so far, no explanation. She collapsed suddenly at home and neither her husband, paramedics or doctors could save her. It’s devastating and we are lost, unable to see a way forward.
    Most friends and acquaintances have been kindness itself but one has made me feel bitterly angry and resentful at her crassness. She has a strong religious faith, which we don’t share, and she assured us in her card (among other things) that “God understands how we feel because he lost a son.” I can’t begin to express just how that made me feel. For me, there’s so much wrong with that statement on so many levels that I want to strike back at her. I haven’t, because I lack the strength to face even the idea of a quarrel at the moment, even though I’m so upset by her words. If I do, it will have repercussions for a whole group of friends who will undoubtedly be drawn in as this isn’t the first time that there’s been some tension arising from her beliefs. She feels that we must respect her faith and not offer any comments which she might find offensive, but this seems to work in only one direction. I try to be tolerant of the beliefs of others; how can I be sure that they’re wrong? Is it expecting too much for them to return the courtesy? Please, think before you speak…

  8. I see this starting in 2013, almost 6 years ago, but clearly is a needed conversation. I think the clearest point is, it’s different for everyone. Some things comfort one person but another cannot ever get it out of their head. I have lost my brother (overdose), father (heart failure) and mom (COPD) one month ago today… it makes me sob just typing that-so hard to believe. Even though I took good care of her for 4 years in our home, I still feel guilty for not taking her to get her hair cut the week before she died like she wanted; I still feel guilty for not organizing the years of meds, supplies & lists she seemed to accumulate; I still feel guilty that after days of not sleeping more than a couple of hours in that last hard week that I came home to sleep after she was calm & safe & clean at hospice…and that she passed away alone 12 hours later at 2:30am. Your article on guilt led me here & all I can say after reading each of the above is I agree with Eleanor’s reply to Meghan on 4/18/2013 which is keep it simple but follow up, so many thoughts and calls and prayers come immediately but as time marches on I feel so loved when someone follows up with me to see how I am now, days, weeks, months, years later. I do not believe in “closure”, I hate that word. Things get better, you cry less, remember the good in the person you lost & forget any bad but there is no closure. It’s a pain that to this day will make me cry over my dad who I lost 10 years ago so I, personally, will never use that word. Also, don’t say let me know what I can do-people in true deep grief can barely think to brush your teeth or walk much less ask for favors; if it’s someone you love, simply make a meal & say I am just dropping it off or mow their grass or take care of the kids for a day. Beyond my few extremely close friends I would likely never “let you know” what you can do, mainly because my mind is not normal. I forget whole conversations & the depression is tough to maneuver to say the least. I know I’m rambling so I might come back when I am not at the corporate office crying while I type this. God bless you all.

  9. The absolutely best thing I ever said to a dear friend who had suddenly lost his wife was this” Tom I don’t know what to say”. Of course life goes on but thats a given. Years later when my son was killed in a auto accident and the “he’s in a better place” was offered I wanted to scream. Its really very simple…unless you have walked in the same shoes you don’t know anything about the pain. What can I do… where can I help you and then shut up and listen. Be ready to listen at the first moment and as the clocks tics days then weeks then years away. Time does not heal all but dulls the pain to a state of being managed. Laugh and the world laughs with you..cry and you cry alone. Suggesting its some grand plan is a bit of a bridge to far ….

  10. My mom told my husband (who just lost his sister to suicide) that she could kind of relate to his mom losing her daughter because she almost lost me when I was 6 to an appendicitis and she almost miscarried my sister. ALMOST. And not the same at all. Needless to say, he was upset by that. She wasn’t trying to be rude or , but….really?

  11. I am very thankful for this list. I can’t say that I haven’t lost people, but they we’re suffering from an illness which made them forget me and they were barely able to speak, (I’m 16 so for the biggest part of my life I remember my grandpa’s like that). But the first time that I felt a lot of grief was when my cat died. There was one day that my friends mother called to my house in the evening to ask if I could come over because her daughter just lost their dad. I can’t say that I handled it perfectly, but I do remember me instead of saying an imaginary future, I asked her what she was planning to do, and after I asked that question she cheered up a little. Though I’m not sure if it was the right thing to say, maybe I only made it worse. Due to my autism I tend to say very hurtful things, or say things in the completely wrong way without knowing that I said it wrong, or that I shouldn’t have said that. These days I’m really trying to think about the things I say and what I should and shouldn’t say. I notice it more often now when I say something wrong but I want to learn what to do, especially in situations like these where the other person can be extra fragile. Thank you very much for this list and these comments, I will remember them when someone I know looses someone dear to them. This gave me confidence.

    For all the people in the comments and the people who read my comment who have lost someone dear to them, or have experienced someone saying very wrong stuff in that situation, and the one who made this, I’m very sorry for your loss and I promise to do my best not to give others the same experience that you have had with the wrong things people say.

    I’m not very good at putting this into words so I hope you understand what you just read

    Thank you very much again!
    Nikki

    • Nikki, you sound like an amazing person with more self awareness than 99% of adults. Your comments let us know you are a heart-centered and compassionate person, and your friends and family are lucky to have you in their lives. Makes my day to read about your efforts to be there for your loved ones. Thank you.

  12. I think “you can always remarry/have another kid/get another pet” are all interrelated statements. They reflect an eerie mentality in which sentient beings are no more valuable than disposable objects and an immature belief that relationships are something that should never involve commitment, hardship, or pain. I hate this facet of our society.

    Also, as an alternative to “be strong,” I suggest “you *are* strong”. Loving someone for better or for worse takes strength. Being unafraid of so-called “negative” feelings takes strength. Being willing to experience the pain and heartbreak that is the flipside of love takes strength. Knowing in advance that you will face all this and that you may outlive your lived one, and deciding to give your heart and soul anyway, takes strength. Loving and facing the grief that follows when your loved one is gone is deeply courageous. Honor that courage.

  13. A good friend said to me “do you think you hastened the death of your parents”.
    I have never been so hurt except when my parents died.
    Background to her comment is.

    Her husband died aged 65 following my friend finding him murmuring early in bed one day. He had been discharged the day he had a stent inserted.
    My friend found him unconscious in the bed in the spare room and due to no cell phone signal, she delayed getting help by knocking on door of a nurse within her apartment block. CPR was administered very late and her husband was brain damaged and died within hours of her deciding to withdraw life support.

    My father was 90 and my mother was 87 and Dad had heart problems. He had been saying for a few months that he had no quality of life and felt unwell and was happy to “move on”.
    About 6 weeks before my father died in hospital I was knocked over by a lorry and had my arm amputated.
    Of course my parents were upset but they both visited me in hospital and I moved in with them and we had some lovely moments.
    Dad had another of his episodes and after his death Mum became ill 3 months later and was diagnosed with secondary cancer, She refused treatment and died at home in my arms. They had been married for 65 years.

    I still see my friend but things are not the same and I greatly resent what she said to me. It felt like she was transferring her guilt onto me but nothing excuses what she said to me.
    Just wondered if anyone had any comments.

  14. Hi there, I am an Iranian lecturer and I help the mothers who they had pregnancy loss and found your site very useful. As you know due to sanction we can not have any financial relation with abroad. I was wondering whether you would be able to send me a version of your nice “ebook on how to support a grieving friend” for free? If not, no problem, I understand.
    I am looking forward to hearing from you
    Thanking you in anticipation,
    Warm regards,
    Eli

  15. True, the list of “what not to say” is not all inclusive.

    I, only days ago, lost my 32 old son. The pain is bearing enough, not to mention their “so called comforting” words.

    I only ask that friends, family and neighbors give a hug, step aside, leave or sit with mouths shut.

    I could not tolerate the overwhelming presence, memory stories, nor their irritating inconsiderate conversations that caused me anxiety and anger.

    So I haven myself in bedroom to lay, rest and isolate myself. I fell asleep. One of my nieces friend enters the bedroom, sits on bed next to me, and merely rests her hand on my side (hip) and said nothing.

    After a bit I asked who it was, she answered, I turned to look and retreated back to my sleep. Later, dont know how long it was, I awoke and she was still there. Did not say a word.

    It was the most and only comforting act that I needed and appreciated, expressing my accepting condolence.

    Amen-

  16. “I loved her obituary.”

    I know the person who said this meant “I learned so much about your mom, she seemed like a fascinating person.” But I can’t get that phrase out of my head.

  17. I dated my husband for 4 years during high school, he died 2 days before our 43rd wedding anniversary. I have wonderful friends. My husbands best friend of 50 years and his wife were there, but also said things to me I’ll never forget. Stop being negative, since months after he died,. His friend said “oh you’re still wearing your wedding ring?” 6 months after he died of cardiac arrest. We’re still friends but nothing is the same, I also lost a work friend of 30 years, who just stopped talking to me. Then there’s the friend who has called me daily since his death, even when she and her family are away on vacation. I think our culture just doesn’t handle this very well. I always go with my gut, I talk, I’m there if you need me. I find it especially helpful to be able to talk about the person, they’re not dead to us.
    .

  18. I’ll tell you one phrase I can’t TOLERATE. That is: “I can’t imagine how you feel.” Oh yes, you can, you just don’t want to go there! That phrase further isolates the grieving person. Here’s another that shouldn’t even have to be mentioned, but I can’t tell you how many times I heard this doozy: “I don’t know how you’re getting up in the morning.” Wait, do you mean I should have committed suicide by now? How is that helpful!? I found people who’d lost loved ones themselves to be the most helpful. They said things like, “I know exactly how you feel.” They knew every loss is different, but that pain in your chest, that confusion as to who you’re going to be now, etc. is universal. They also said things like “the pain is going to get worse as time passes because you would never have conceived of going that long without seeing the person.” I was glad to know that beforehand so I didn’t feel like I was regressing as time passed. Also helpful: “Your entire self is going to change as a result of this, and you will come to admire that new person very much. But It will take time and you cannot rush it. The best thing you can do is cry as much as you want.” Spot on. One thing that I told MYSELF when I suffered the biggest loss of my life was “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to get through this and be a good, healthy, happy person when this is over.” I didn’t force it, but I let that statement be my beacon as I grieved. Somehow (okay, I know exactly how, but it’s a weird, paranormal story) I knew that a door to absolute spiritual darkness was open for me to walk through at that time had I not recognized it as such. So I grieved hard, but for me, recognizing that grief can put you in actual spiritual danger if you don’t know what’s going on was a BLESSING. Don’t we all know people who got and stayed angry or depressed after the death of a loved one, ruining the rest of their lives? So this stuff is real. So perhaps when your grieving friend is in a lucid moment, encourage them to create a personal goal of who and how they’d like to be as the grief subsides. Remind them that this is not a to-do list or something to be worked on now, but merely kept in mind through the storm.

    • I am so very sorry for your loss and suffering. When I met my boyfriend I had just lost my boss of 22 years as well as my career and was about to lose my house. On top of all of this it was a long distance relationship and he kept telling me that I should be doing more and getting over it soon etc. I did go out there and interviewed but to no avail. Stupidly a year and a half later I relocated to be with him and my father passed away when I was gone. My dad was sick for 30 years and I took care of him with my mom and visited him almost every day at the nursing home for the last nine years. My boyfriend doesn’t care and ever since I came back from the funeral he has been verbally and mentally and emotionally and financially abusing me because I have been out of a job for five years since I last my career and he was supposed to be OK with taking care of me for a year while I finish school and took my exam. Instead he says well you knew it was coming and stuff like that. Needless to say I will be leaving here asap but I have to wait for my insurance claim because I spent my last $9000 relocating here and the movers damaged 95% of my household goods – even had a dead rat roll down my body- 22 years worth of my life acquiring it. Some people just weren’t brought up properly and not loved and accepted because of selfish parents and I blame them. Some children are able to break the cycle and become better people and I commend them because that is rare. These ignorants have no empathy or are either narcissists or psychopaths. That’s only my opinion. I was daddy‘s little girl and I am now 47 and my heart is crushed. I feel devastated and lonely and feel like my world is ending. He’s only been gone for 2 1/2 months and I haven’t been able to grieve properly because I live with someone that offers little to no support. I believe that the best thing to say to someone that has lost someone is I am so very sorry for your loss and I’m here for you in any capacity at any time and give them a long, great big hug and let them cry or just be there and comfort them, hold them, not say anything really except if they need anything. Hugs to everyone!

  19. Don’t mention God or anything religious unless you know (a) whether or not the recipient has any religious beliefs, and (b) exactly what those beliefs are.

    This is not the time to preach.

  20. My partner was an addict who died, only 41. I was told – well, I’ve no sympathy for them , they bring it on them selves. He knew what he was doing. – disgusting! Yes he was an addict. People don’t plan on ending up this way! The amount of pain he endured trying to kick the habit! I was so shocked by her cruel comment I just walked away. Some people have horrible opinions about addicts. So sad – there still people! Rip – mark. Xxxxxx

    • Clare — I lost my only son (33 years old) last year when he lost his battle with addiction. I am trying to learn to deal with what people say by assuming that they MEAN well. I have actually said to people “yes, my son lost his battle with addiction — but my son was NOT his addiction — he was my beloved boy, who fought a good fight with all the he had, but lost the battle.” For someone to tell you they had ‘no sympathy’ because the person ‘brought it on themselves’ flies in the face of YEARS of medical research. Addicts make a choice the first time they use — but very shortly after that initial use — the brain of an addict changes — and there is very little ‘choice’ anymore. I know that addiction can be conquered, but it is a VERY tough fight. Do not spend any more of your energy on anyone who could be so cruel as to tell you that the person you lost to this horrible disease “knew what he was doing.” Wishing you peace and hope that you will feel God’s love through your difficult journey.

  21. The response I got tonight has still & will always stick with me! I have no words to describe it except, mind blown, speechless, disgusted & are you kidding me!! My step dad died a week ago. My boyfriend says, and I quote ” it’s not the end of the world!” Yes you read that right! Unbelievable!

    • Wow Scarlett, there is no accounting for the crazy things people say! I can only hope your boyfriend was looking for something optimistic or comforting to say. Unfortunately those can be the worst things to say. I am so sorry about your step dad. I hope you find support on our site. Take care.

  22. I know people mean well, but I am very sick of people giving me “permission” to feel sad. I am grieving internally and privately, and I don’t feel the need to dissolve into tears and hug every person I barely know. People keep telling me “it’s okay to be sad” and ” don’t be afraid to cry” and “I am sure it will hit you eventually”. Everyone is trying to tell me it’s okay to cry a lot (I never asked) and the underlying insinuation is that I don’t seem sad enough to match their definition of what a griever should look like. I have started to lie to people about how sad I am just to make them more comfortable. Because apparently telling people I am okay is unacceptable. People NEED me to be a crying mess in order to fit their definitions. It is driving me nuts. If a grieving person didn’t ask for advice, please don’t give it. I prefer people just say “I am sorry” and “I am here if you need me”. Please stop telling me how sad I need to be.

    • Haha…Stephanie…this isn’t funny but you’ve made me laugh! People are so funny and oddly it’s always up to the grieving person to tell them when they are being over the top. Interestingly, for a long time all we had were people telling others NOT to feel and now we’ve crossed over to the other extreme where people are policed into fully expressing their emotions. Ahhhh…sometimes it feels like there can never be any in-between where people are allowed to just be themselves.

      • This is so true Eleanor – I am being smothered by well-meaning people who are trying nothing more than to ensure I have a safe space to grieve – and they are driving me nuts! Hahaha it is actually really funny, thanks for the perspective 🙂

    • The whole “permission” thing is creepy and infantilizing in general, whether related to grief or not. I’m a functioning adult, I don’t need a surrogate parent unctuously conferring approval (or lack thereof) on my every thought and feeling. Respect my autonomy and independence.

  23. Although the person I just lost was not in my life for any length of time and yes, he had a major illness on Earth, I was advised last night not to put people on a pedestal just because they passed away (this friend claimed he would say that to most people). I was not elevating the lost one to a pedestal, but the loss was still a personal and devastating one anyway, especially as he was only 24 years old! Not cool…

  24. It’s nearly 30 years ago, and I still remember (with irritation) the people telling me to “be strong for your mother and hold your mother up” when my grandmother died – as though I weren’t just as close to my grandmother! She lived around the corner, she was here nearly every night for supper, she taught me my most treasured skills – but I should be strong for my mother! And it wasn’t strangers – these were family members who should certainly have known better.

  25. The worst thing that was said to me after my mom died was ” well, you know, everybody got to died sometime” I wanted (and still do) to punch this person in the face.

  26. Worst thing ever said to me was the night my father died. Someone said “at least he’s in a better place now” and then a further friend responded, “no, there is no better place, because there is no afterlife. He is but a memory held in your mind, cherish that.” The complete wrong opportunity to push an atheist belief.

  27. What not to say: Thank goodness you didn’t have any children.

  28. What not to say: what did the child die from? It’s important because you’ll need to know so it doesn’t happen if you have another baby”

  29. This is great. I love this list.
    I have a similar list that gives helpful advice to people in our lives as to how they can deal with us without pissing us off in our moments of intense grief. I have found these to be much more helpful to me than telling someone off, or pushing them away.
    1. I know that it is hard to see my hurting, but someone that I love has died and I am going to hurt.
    2. Crying is a healthy reaction to grief, and grief is a healthy reaction to losing someone that we love – Please let me feel my feelings as they come.
    3. Please don’t limit the time that is “OK” for me to grieve.
    4. It sounds like a cliché, but be present. Keeping me connected with friends is important.
    5. Call, email, facebook, send letters or cards, even if I don’t respond. I will know that you care and that will help.
    6. Don’t try to understand, don’t try to compare my loss, just understand that you don’t understand.
    7. I am not going to “find closure” or “get over it,” but one day I will begin to reinvest in life. I just need time.
    8. Pain and joy can coexist; when I laugh one day it doesn’t mean that I wont cry the next.
    9. I really am not crazy. I might cry in the cereal aisle, be unable to make coffee, buy presents for someone who isn’t here, or visit the cemetery every day. I am grieving, and that makes a lot of what I do seem crazy. If I am not hurting myself or others, please just accept that what I am doing is ok.
    10. Memories and stories are important to my healing. Please talk about my child/spouse/sibling/grandchild/parents – I will tell you if I cant handle them.
    11. Grief can be fickle… Some days I can conquer mountains, and other days I cant conquer a shower.
    12. Forgive me for the insensitive things that I’ve said or done. I don’t mean to be hurtful – sometimes I just cant think about what I’m doing.
    13. I might seem strong, but I don’t feel strong.
    14. My spouse/child/sibling/grandchild/parent will always be part of my life in many different ways. Please help me include them.
    15. Invite me to dinner, parties, and other events, and continue to do so even if I say not for a very long time. One day I will be ready.
    16. Love me as I am now, and know that if you ever experience a similar loss that you will have a friend who understands.

  30. Sometimes the best thing to say is to admit that you don’t know what to say. Runner-up: “I am here for you as much as you need, and I will call you every day to see how you are doing.”

  31. Its crazy all of the stuff people say in the name of being ‘helpful.’ We have lost friends and/or distanced ourselves from people who were unable to walk with us after our son died. I have been asked by tons of people what to say after tragedy. ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ is the best, universal response. After that, shut your mouth and listen. Offer a hug. I tell them that if they don’t have the power to bring back my son, they don’t have the power to make me feel better or give me advice. Great post.

  32. What about “what TO say?”

    • Meghan, that’s a good question but unfortunately the answer is tricky! Individuals, relationships, losses, they are all different. Don’t be afraid to keep it simple, “I’m so sorry for your loss” “My deepest sympathies” “Can I do x, y, or z for you?” It seems so small but more often than not people don’t need you to say something great, they just need to know you’re there for them.

  33. I could watch Schindler’s List and still be happy after reaindg this.

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