What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving

Supporting a Griever / Supporting a Griever : Litsa Williams

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.

Let’s be grief friends.

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76 Comments on "What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving"

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  1. Jennifer  October 2, 2020 at 11:31 am Reply

    When my mother died (age 59) 2 different people said to me “I’s normal” and “It’s a part of life….”
    I thought it was careless to have that sentiment said to me at the time. I don’t think it’s normal or natural to die in your 50’s and I certainly didn’t want to live in a world where that is considered “Normal”

  2. Lynette Stevenson  August 28, 2020 at 9:57 pm Reply

    After my mother’s death and o returning to work, my boss said ‘Have you joined the land of the living again ?’
    After my father’s death, my boss did not say one word, no sorry for your loss, no flowers, no if you need more time, Nothing
    After my grandmother’s suicide a Supervisor said ‘The ambulance drivers said she threw herself in your swimming pool ? ‘
    We need to educate people in the workplace how to respond to an employee’s loss. 😪

  3. S steeves  July 12, 2020 at 7:14 am Reply

    My step father just passed away, and I was not able to see him on account of covid. When my mom called to tell me of his passing I said, this is why i wanted to see him. She called me insensitive and hung up. I feel like she’s not understanding how I’m feeling? Yet I don’t want to invalidate her feelings

  4. Leece  June 26, 2020 at 10:29 pm Reply

    I told my friend that I had no words for her. But I know her mom loved her very much and that I love her too.
    I hope that was ok… ??‍♀️

  5. Dean Franklin  June 21, 2020 at 5:08 am Reply

    I had a favourite auntie pass away and got the news that day. In a wave of grief I said, why did he die. My wife, who lost an uncle a few months back, answered, “Why did Uncle Will have to die. We don’t know.”

    I said, as I was in a throw of emotion, “My condolence for your loss, but this is not about you right now.”

    She stormed out angry and has not let it go.

    I felt she was minimizing my grief by comparing; she states she was only showing she was relating to my question. Obviously still in grief about her Uncle.

    I do not know what to do.

  6. Phil  May 23, 2020 at 3:06 am Reply

    Am I allowed to ask how the deceased died, as no-one has actually told me ?

  7. Marilyn Mann  March 10, 2020 at 1:07 pm Reply

    One of my family members recently died, and a “friend” said one of the things on this list to me, and I really found it hurtful.
    Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to respond? I am pondering whether to point out to this person that her words were not helpful. She actually said three different things that were not helpful, were hurtful. Should I try to make her understand what she is doing wrong so she won’t make the same mistakes again with someone else?

  8. Ric  March 2, 2020 at 1:55 am Reply

    The very best thing to say is not to say anything but give a sincere hug or a warm shoulder.
    Instead of asking if the griever wants something just give it or be quiet.
    Please, refrain from telling the griever that you’ll be there when you know you won’t.
    Finally, let the griever alone if you can not give real love!

  9. Marta  February 28, 2020 at 9:37 pm Reply

    There is no way to help…you must do by yourself

  10. BB  February 23, 2020 at 6:04 pm Reply

    My mother had vascular dementia which kicked in when she was 35, making her very abusive to me. As she was single, I had to become the mother of the house when I was 10, do the cooking and and take care of my little brother. The dementia stabilized, and then slowly progressed through the years.

    Before Christmas, she’d decided that she wanted to die and wouldn’t eat. She refused to go to the hospital. I had to get the Department of Aging involved, and we finally got her to the hospital. But even then, I couldn’t force the doctors to put in a feeding tube as my stepfather (mentally incompetent) was her next of kind, and he refused. I started a legal battle, but quit when an MRI showed that she’d had two major vascular strokes. I decided to honor her wishes.

    I had to watch her slowly starve to death over a period of four weeks. It’s terrible to see your mother die like that!

    Though I got a lot of support from family and friends during those four weeks, everyone abandoned me after she died. Some expressed their condolences on Facebook, but no one sent a sympathy card, flowers, or even bothered to call. A cousin emailed me three weeks later and asked how I was doing.

    Today, I told an adult niece about my mother’s struggle with vascular disease and how heartbreaking that and her death has been. She told me that I need to accept it. “Acceptance,” she repeated firmly.

    It made me angry. My mother has only been dead a month. I do accept it, but I’m still dealing with the pain, and I will be for some time. It’s a lot to deal with, but I feel that I’m dealing with my grief in an effective way. I’m writing down my good memories of my mother, and I’ve found more reasons to love her. That’s working for me, helping me significantly.

  11. Candace  February 20, 2020 at 11:04 pm Reply

    I was devastated when I lost my husband to brain cancer just 12 weeks after diagnosis. I was not able to get back to church after his death and I wondered why the pastor didn’t call and then, after 3 months, he did call and wanted to visit. As soon as he arrived he told me that God had often used him to heal the sick but since he had prayed for my husband and he died, it must mean that God was trying to get my attention. So I asked him, are you saying it’s my fault that my husband got cancer and died? And he replied it’s something you should think about. I know it is difficult knowing what to say after a death but that comment was just plain cruel!

  12. KAREN DKSDFKJ  January 9, 2020 at 7:20 am Reply

    so my name Karen and I dont appreciate how you said “you can just have another child.” If I lose a child that I somewhat cared for. Then some one walks and says that, well he better say by to his volcal cords. I really I REALLY DO NOT LIKE YOU. YOUR A STINKER SOCK. A PICKLE CHIN! YOUR IQ

    • Gaylene  February 27, 2020 at 11:26 am Reply

      I believe that was a statement in the article of what not to say .

  13. Michelle  November 4, 2019 at 8:36 am Reply

    Just a mere five weeks after my brother took his life, I made the mistake of hosting a birthday party for my mother-in-law just as I do every year. I was still in shock and disbelief and was not really in the right frame of mind to host a party and rather than listen to my gut and cancel the party, I listened to my head instead – terrible idea! My insensitive and boorish brother-in-law was the absolute worst he has ever been and I have never been treated so badly by anyone in my entire life. He and his wife, my husband’s sister, walks in and sits down and the first thing out of my BIL’s mouth was “What do you think of Robin Williams and mental health?” OUCH!!! No mention of my brother, no “I’m sorry for your loss” no hugs, nothing. Knowing that I’m a Christian didn’t hold him back a bit. He then starts on his stump speech about how there is no God, there are no miracles, and then bashes Christianity and Christians. Surely at 70 years old, he should know the struggles Christians may have in terms of their loved one’s soul but he didn’t hold back. He picked fights with me all afternoon and nobody said a word. I finally yelled at my SIL and said “Are you blind as a bat?” in response to my BIL’s toxic bullying and of course, she wanted to be the victim and overreacted and jumped out of her chair and screamed and ran off crying. Guess who was the bad guy? ME!!! If this scene had been filmed in a foreign language, one would think my SIL was the one that had lost her brother! There was no excuse for their outrageous behavior as this couple tragically lost their teenage son about 25 years in a car accident so they know firsthand about sudden, unexpected and traumatic loss. The horrible people will never be allowed near me again!

  14. Jo-Anne Nibbs  November 1, 2019 at 7:27 pm Reply

    Reading these comments it is so easy to see why people avoid those who have suffered a dreadful loss. It is impossible to know what to say. Some want words, others want hugs, others want to be left alone. There is a dreadful fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, causing more pain. I have friends and relatives who have had unspeakably awful losses. I am paralysed by their grief, frightened by it. I remember the months after my mother’s death being a dreadful blur, of crying at every little act of kindness, at flowers, at ads on TV, at seeing kids holding their mum’s hand. I cried reading these comments. Death is such a common and yet unique event. We don’t seem to get it right. I don’t know what the answer is.

  15. BitternessWillEatYou  August 19, 2019 at 12:13 am Reply

    STEP-SISTER (ONE WHO HAD NEVER LOST A PARENT! AND WHO WAS ANXIOUSLY WAITING TO SEE HIS WILL) says to me “JUST GIVE IT A YEAR.” First, As if she knew what would be going on in a year’s time…. secondly, the comment was vindictive to my tears of grief for my father’s passing because she hated him/ or me? Don’t know because she never openly expressed it until then = snake in the grass. I will never forget those words of hatred that were spoken to be some sort of comfort in front of others yet were faker than a devil’s promise from himself! Her eyes stated the meaning of the comment. It wasn’t meant to bring me comfort. It was to bring HER some sort of comfort while lashing out at me within 24 hrs of my father’s last breath.

  16. J.T  August 11, 2019 at 11:34 pm Reply

    Another thing that should NEVER be said? “That’s life. It happens.” Okay while that may be true, we all have the right to grieve. Everybody grieves differently. Yes people come and go all the time BUT at some point in our lives we have to grieve. It’s unwanted but it’s necessary. We all need to grieve. No one should be judged or put down for how they grieve. Let them grieve for as long as it needs to be done. With death, only time will heal the wounds left behind.

  17. Tokuma hyate  July 16, 2019 at 5:25 am Reply

    What do i do .. i never have felt any grief about someones death. as long as i know no one near me died , so i never felt that kind of grief .. my freinds local puppy was shot to death .. i didnt know how to comfort her .. and she said that i am not taking this seriously .she has not been talking to me ever since its been 3 days ..what do i do

  18. Holly H  June 19, 2019 at 8:12 pm Reply

    My brother took his own life in March 2015. One comment that stood out to me and has never left me…”how could you not of known he was struggling?” I also had many people tell me “I cannot imagine your pain”… Looking back, I appreciate the ones that were honest and let me know they couldn’t imagine, instead of telling me “I know exactly what you are going through.” I am now extremely careful of my words towards a grieving heart. I think the best thing to say is “I am sorry and will be here for you whenever you need me.”

  19. Allie Smith  June 12, 2019 at 7:56 am Reply

    We went to the store and my dad sayed we have to return these my wife died of cancer the young lady sayed ok have a nice day never mind saying so sorry for your loss what a bitch

  20. Allie Smith  June 12, 2019 at 7:53 am Reply

    My mom died from cancer she was only in her 60’s not that old 😭me and my dad and my younger sister was at the store returning something my mom never used and my dad sayed can we return this my wife died of cancer the young lady was like yes before we left the store she smiled and sayed to us have a nice day what the fuck she never said sorry your wife died from cancer I’m sorry to say this but what a bitch I hope when that lady dies she rotes in hell my mom was not just my mom but my best friend and hero and I miss her I’d give anything to have her back with us on earth some people have no respect for the dead or have love in there hearts for other people that woman cared only about herself and no one else rude so mean not even funny

  21. DAVE SUNDQUIST  June 5, 2019 at 2:28 pm Reply

    a friend told me, maybe it’s time to move on ! i said fuck you , you don’t get it !

  22. Emm  May 24, 2019 at 5:42 pm Reply

    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.

  23. Jenny  May 22, 2019 at 5:07 pm Reply

    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.

    • Chrissy  July 7, 2019 at 7:21 am Reply

      Jenny, I thoroughly believe you said not only the right things, but the perfect things. What you told that man is something that I feel is actually fitting for many grieving people to hear, whether it is a child, a parent, a friend , a spouse, etc. When I lost my grandmother, 20 yrs ago, whom I was very close to & barely an adult myself, those words would’ve meant the world to me. Had someone said that to me, I might’ve been spared grief avoidance/complicated grief, more than a decade of self medication & the horrifying mess my life became, including self harm & 2 suicide attempts. I lost my 13 yr old son due to diabetic complications 5 days after my birthday, almost 6 wks ago. Reading your words especially now, means very much to me, even though I know you weren’t saying them directly to me. I felt your message & your compassion. Thank you.

  24. JeannieF  April 4, 2019 at 5:44 am Reply

    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…

  25. Nichole Witter  March 23, 2019 at 5:09 am Reply

    “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”.

    • BB  February 23, 2020 at 9:07 pm Reply

      Nichole, I guess being told to “let go,” is similar to “accept” that a relative told me a month after my mom died. Such people just don’t get it. I’m sorry for your loss.

  26. Sharon Ralston  March 13, 2019 at 10:52 am Reply

    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.

  27. Thomas  March 4, 2019 at 1:33 pm Reply

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

    Any thing wrong with that?

  28. JeannieF  February 22, 2019 at 8:04 pm Reply

    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…

  29. Mia Jones  February 22, 2019 at 2:31 pm Reply

    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.

  30. Bill E  February 12, 2019 at 10:33 pm Reply

    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 ….

  31. J  February 11, 2019 at 2:06 pm Reply

    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?

  32. Nikki  February 6, 2019 at 3:37 am Reply

    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!

    • Maggie  May 9, 2019 at 9:20 am Reply

      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.

  33. Red  February 2, 2019 at 6:34 pm Reply

    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.

  34. Carole1  December 15, 2018 at 9:57 am Reply

    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.

  35. Elham  August 15, 2018 at 11:33 am Reply

    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,

  36. angelica  March 30, 2018 at 7:37 pm Reply

    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.


  37. angelica  March 30, 2018 at 7:37 pm Reply

    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.


  38. Ash  March 12, 2018 at 8:57 pm Reply


  39. Ash  March 12, 2018 at 8:57 pm Reply


  40. Cindy  October 8, 2017 at 10:08 pm Reply

    “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.

  41. Cindy  October 8, 2017 at 10:08 pm Reply

    “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.

  42. Gail  July 13, 2017 at 9:04 am Reply

    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.

  43. Jill  February 16, 2017 at 11:00 am Reply

    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.

    • Kristen  December 22, 2018 at 3:21 am Reply

      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!

  44. RoHa  September 16, 2016 at 7:54 am Reply

    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.

  45. Clare  July 12, 2016 at 2:46 am Reply

    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

    • Linda K  September 19, 2016 at 12:05 pm Reply

      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.

      • Litsa  September 20, 2016 at 8:55 pm

        Well said, Linda. Thanks for your supportive words.

  46. Scarlett  June 20, 2016 at 2:31 am Reply

    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!

    • Litsa  June 21, 2016 at 9:12 am Reply

      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.

  47. Stephanie  February 23, 2016 at 7:46 am Reply

    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.

    • Eleanor  February 23, 2016 at 11:29 am Reply

      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.

      • Stephanie  March 3, 2016 at 1:40 pm

        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 🙂

    • Red  February 2, 2019 at 6:26 pm Reply

      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.

  48. Ann  January 16, 2016 at 6:17 am Reply

    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…

  49. Karen Siegel  December 28, 2015 at 2:04 pm Reply

    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.

  50. Jillian  December 25, 2015 at 7:45 pm Reply

    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.

    • Litsa  December 26, 2015 at 7:42 am Reply

      Wow I want to punch them in the face too!! So sorry people are shockingly thoughtless sometimes 🙁

  51. Billie  September 4, 2015 at 5:48 pm Reply

    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.

  52. Sue C  August 26, 2015 at 8:53 pm Reply

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

  53. Sue P  August 19, 2015 at 8:56 pm Reply

    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”

  54. Jordon  July 21, 2015 at 12:06 pm Reply

    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.

  55. JC  December 23, 2014 at 7:21 pm Reply

    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.”

  56. Janna  July 21, 2014 at 12:10 am Reply

    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.

  57. Meghan Herek  April 18, 2013 at 10:30 am Reply

    What about “what TO say?”

    • Eleanor  April 18, 2013 at 8:19 pm Reply

      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.

  58. Jacey  March 22, 2013 at 7:38 am Reply

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

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