What Not to Say to a Griever: Illustrated

Supporting a Griever / Supporting a Griever : Eleanor Haley

For further articles on these topics:

People mean well (usually), but sometimes well-wishers choose the worst possible things to say after a death.  So many of the commonly used platitudes aimed at providing comfort actually have the opposite effect by minimizing a person's grief. Please allow me to literally illustrate my point for all you non-believers.

1.  "Don't cry" or " You have to be strong now".


2.  "God never gives us more than we can handle.


3.  She's in a better place now.

better place1
better place 2

4.  "At least he lived a long life."

long life 1
long life 2

5.  "It was God's will." or "God has a plan."

god has plan

It's no wonder grievers sometimes learn to brace themselves whenever they see a sympathetic head-tilt approaching.  For those hoping to support a grieving friend or family member, we have a ton of advice on offering thoughtful support here. We've also create an eGuide for supporting a griever which you can find in the What's Your Grief Store.

Leave a comment and let us know what you would add to this list.  Also, don't forget to subscribe.

We wrote a book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
real-life book!

After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible, real-life book!

What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.

You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books:

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

53 Comments on "What Not to Say to a Griever: Illustrated"

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. Raymond  December 10, 2021 at 1:51 am Reply

    Are there no books that explain why we shouldn’t say these things to a griever?

    • Litsa  December 27, 2021 at 2:48 pm Reply

      there are certainly books and many articles online, but unfortunately many people don’t read things like that and trust their intuition, which can lead them astray.

  2. Levi's Mom  October 18, 2021 at 1:05 pm Reply

    First, let me say that for me the most important turn of events was when I fully accepted that I knew absolutely nothing about sensitivity issues related to grief until my only child died. My daughter Levi was 21. Before that day, I did my share of asking stupid questions and making stupid statements – maybe ignorant, not stupid. Having said that, I would like to give an award to my niece for the most ignorant question followed by the most ignorant statement. “I know I probably shouldn’t ask this, but how did she die?” (she had leaned forward, smiled that truly deranged looking smile, eyes sparkling with what? Mischief? Greed in wanting to be privy to “the truth”? I gave her the cause of death from the certificate – enlarged heart, massive attack. A few minutes later she said “All parents go through empty-nest syndrome – kids get married, leave for college, or just move away.” Yeah. Same thing exactly. [sarcasm font needed] This was during a visit four and a half years after the fact. I’d barely heard from her or anyone else in the family, so I decided to try to test the waters, reconnect if possible. For this one person, I can’t see it as a remote possibility.

  3. Karen Elisabeth  March 18, 2021 at 2:22 pm Reply

    In 2000, I lost my mother almost 21 years ago, 18 months later in 2003, my grandma passed away. Her and I were very close. She was the only grandparent of mine I was able establish a strong loving bond with because the others died before my time or when I was really young and have vague memories of them. 2005 my oldest brother committed suicide the day before I had my second child oldest son. My dad fell in 2009 2 weeks after my 3rd child was born. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s like dementia from several brain injuries due to his fall. He never regained his memory and so that felt like a death because the man who raised us was not the same man that sat before us after. 2015 my only living brother was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive and fast spreading cancer and died less than a month later. My dad passed the end of the year 2017, his sister who I also had a very strong bond with was diagnosed with ALS and passed away 16 months later in 2019.
    After my mother’s death I was in 2 consecutive relationships that were extremely abusive. #1 lasted 12 yrs had 5 kids #2 was for 6 years had 2 kids. I left both relationships when I knew I was strong enough to. Because of the past abuse and CPS involvement when I wouldn’t take back #2 him and some of his family called on me they took my kids based on past cases and my rights were terminated for all but my oldest last year in August. My sister testified against me during my trial, but not because she was doing what was right, this was over greed and money. 3 months after trial her 3 year old grandson my grandnephew drowned. 11 days ago I found out my oldest sister’s son the one who made me an Aunt died of a heart attack at 30.
    My current significant other doesn’t understand my grief and said I’m being negative, when I used the term I can’t seem to catch a break. He said I offended him because we have a good relationship normally. When I said my comment was not about him and I went over my loved ones I lost he said he isn’t doing this anymore and walked away from me. I feel so alone.
    I’m sorry about the novel I wrote above I needed to let it all out.

  4. Richard  November 7, 2019 at 10:27 pm Reply

    Mine was God will replace what you have lost with some thing much better,I’d just seen my Anne pass after 36 years together

  5. lesley deehan  January 23, 2019 at 5:28 am Reply

    I lost my 16 yr daughter in 2005 and the saying I get is she wouldn’t want you to be like this ie sad, tearful, hating the world, just having off day, err pardon when did she say that to you, why don’t people realise all grieving people need is a hug xxx

  6. Diane  January 22, 2019 at 1:53 pm Reply

    I’m sure the holidays were rough. They were more than rough!

  7. Danica Thurber  August 23, 2018 at 6:59 pm Reply

    My family and I had a big discussion about this. The worst comment recieved was one my sister got in response to our dad’s sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 46:

    “I know how you feel. My dog died.”


  8. Vikki  August 22, 2018 at 7:22 pm Reply

    I love the people that compare their divorce or separation to my loss. At least you could shout at them for leaving. I just have to face that he didn’t want to go and was taken.

    Or time. It just takes time.

  9. Dave Hallett  August 22, 2018 at 1:54 pm Reply

    ON 12/07/2006 my 9 yr old daughter died literally overnight. Aside from the normal kid stuff she was never sick a day in her life. She wasn’t herself so I took her to the Dr. who did a thorough exam and concluded she had a “Bug.” Made sense, it was Dec in Buffalo, NY. So I took her home, gave her a bath and put her to bed. She never woke up. A few mos later we learned she had been diabetic, her Kidneys failed and killed her. I was with her constantly and there were never any signs, she wasn’t thirsty and peeing a lot, she was a perfectly normal happy, healthy lil girl. I had taken her to the Warped Tour a few mos earlier and we were outside for over 10 hrs, I would’ve known. I wish I could go back to that Dr office and have him check her sugar, but that’s not possible. I was very Angry for a long time and I still don’t know if I could accept and be Ok with whatever reason God had for taking her, but that’s just me being selfish. She’s Home with her Heavenly Father and I miss her terribly. Thank God for my Son who I Love more than words can say, I’m so proud of him.

  10. Brenda  February 18, 2018 at 10:06 am Reply

    I got this “Must be lonely at your house”.

  11. Brenda  February 18, 2018 at 10:06 am Reply

    I got this “Must be lonely at your house”.

  12. sandy  February 18, 2018 at 9:26 am Reply

    someone said to me “maybe it was for the best”. my Lydia 23 took her life. I found her. she hung herself. I wanted to scream and lash out at this person when they said this

  13. sandy  February 18, 2018 at 9:26 am Reply

    someone said to me “maybe it was for the best”. my Lydia 23 took her life. I found her. she hung herself. I wanted to scream and lash out at this person when they said this

  14. Grieving Mama  May 28, 2017 at 9:36 pm Reply

    Our baby was stillborn this March, and I am still reeling from the loss of him and the comments we’ve received. “You’re so lucky though because you’re still… whatever (young, you can have more, you already have a child, you have a great husband ,etc.)” That doesn’t bring him back though. Am I too lucky to have these things that I don’t get to have my baby, too? I didn’t realize there was a maximum on the amount of goodness I can have in my life. I’m really tired of people asking if I’m back at work yet, too. It implies that I should be over it, somehow, and just go back to usual.

    The kicker is people telling us in various ways to get right on making another baby. As though he is so replaceable. And without knowing that actually, we can’t. Because he had a genetic disorder any future babies would unfortunately not live either.

    The absolute worst though, was a woman I barely know learning he was stillborn because he was so sick, who said “you don’t want anything less than perfect anyway”. How wrong you are. He was, and is, so very very wanted. I actually vomited after this comment.

  15. Alicia Robinson  December 31, 2016 at 3:57 am Reply

    Oh this is a good post and the comments are all too familiar! The worst ones for me were the “I remember when my -second cousin twice removed died, I know how you feel.” Not sure how that compares to my mothers loss, but thanks, no thanks. Or “She was so young.” Yes thanks, I’m aware. Or the, “At least she’s not in pain anymore.” Well I can guarantee she’d rather be alive and in pain than dead you idiot! The very worst was from my otherwise sweet and kind uncle who had a temporary case of foot in mouth disease, “Good thing you don’t live close, you’re already used to not seeing her that often!” What?!
    Its awkward and people are mostly terrified and clueless, I wish they would choose not to say anything!

  16. Fran  December 3, 2016 at 8:54 am Reply

    I’ve heard them all. Why do people think they’re helping in any way by saying some of the things they say?
    What I would want, and what I do is this…a big hug and say “I’m so sorry” or, along with a big hug say, “I have no words”.

  17. Jessica  August 1, 2016 at 8:34 pm Reply

    My fiancé died 16 months ago. We were widowed when we met, and only had 4 years together. During the last year 1/2, I’ve gotten a lot of the questions and statements listed above, and some unique ones. The worst thing said to me during this time is, “Well, you had your time with him, and now it’s over.” Very matter-of-factly. And this was always said as a way for the person to end the “So, how are you doing?” inquiry. You know, like I shouldn’t want to talk about him any more. Or, that our relationship didn’t count as a “real” one because he was 30 years my senior, and we hadn’t married before he died. It cuts like a salt covered knife, and they don’t get that they are being rude at all.

    I’ve also gotten the “So, are you looking/dating, yet?” Question. That one cuts like a knife, too. I am very supportive of fellow widows who wish to start dating again. But that is their choice. It doesn’t happen to be mine.

    The question I still don’t know how to answer is, “How are you?” I just can’t seem to find the words to answer that one truthfully.

    I have also spent time working PR for an actor who died of suicidal depression. The most insane and unfeeling comment I’ve seen from people around the world is, “I can’t believe he did that to me.” Really?! Would you take his death personally if he had cancer? It takes everything I have not to respond with, “WTF is that supposed to mean?!?!”

    Thank goodness I found a fantastic grief support group last year. Some of us still meet for dinner once a month. I can’t wait to share this article with them. Thank you so much for posting it.

    PS: the last drawing made me laugh and cry. What a fantastic response! I’m pretty sure I’ve shouted that to the universe more than once during this time.

  18. Janell  April 15, 2016 at 10:24 am Reply

    It’s been almost 12 years since my husband passed. I am angered by married women who tell me they would never date/remarry if they were widowed. How in the heck do they already know what they would do and why are they in effect trying to make me feel guilty for dating and yes I am getting married in July!

  19. Catherine Faber  April 12, 2016 at 9:33 am Reply

    The most unbelievable was:
    Me: “I don’t know whether you realize, but my son was murdered last year..”
    Answer: “Yes, we’ve all had our problems.”

    • Paula wilkinson  February 18, 2018 at 10:15 am Reply

      So sorry for the insensitive people out there who haven’t a clue to what to say..
      My son was brutally murdered and it was highly publicized. Most people avoid me, so not to have to converse, but I had a family friend who after a year asked if ” I was getting over things”??? It’s been 3 years and I’m not getting over anything.

  20. Dana  April 9, 2016 at 4:58 pm Reply

    I got pregnant soon after my mom died and I felt like people jumped on the joy bandwagon and willfully ignored my grief. I absolutely despised hearing, it’s the circle of life, comments.

    • Eleanor  April 11, 2016 at 8:52 am Reply

      Ew….circle of life? This is not the Lion King.

  21. Marianne Brown  April 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm Reply

    how about “a parent should never have to bury their child”…Um, yes, my son crossed into the light before me…and yes, parents do sometimes have their child cross before them. How about I just stay away from people who say anything. I know my son is with his daddy in the light but don’t tell me how to feel about him finishing his work here before me as a bad thing. he was done. he is in joy now. i am not done, i am still waiting to finish my time here.

  22. Beth  April 8, 2016 at 2:40 pm Reply

    The most devastating statement to me was from a representative from my church. She claimed to have been receiving messages from my loved one on the other side. They were completely generic messages, I did not ask for them and I was absolutely dumbfounded that anyone would assume it was okay to act as a medium. I thought I was going crazy and it completely alienated me from my church. After alerting the church board and minister, there was some apology but because this was a beloved (albeit demented) older member there was no decisive action taken. Now that I have completely broken all affiliation with the church I see that she has been reinstated as a “spiritual counselor.” This experience compounded my grief exponentially as I not only lost my dear friend – I lost my spiritual community as well.

    • Eleanor  April 11, 2016 at 8:55 am Reply


      That sounds like a horrible experience! I can’t imagine how I would feel if someone told me that. If you do believe her or don’t believe her, both realities seem distressing! It is really too bad that she is still counseling people. Yikes. Sorry you experienced this.


  23. Megan  April 8, 2016 at 12:23 pm Reply

    Mine include after the death of my sister:

    Do you have any other siblings?

    Losing a child or spouse is the hardest loss. (Oh so I guess I’m ok then, great!)

    What happened?! No, really what happened?!

    This too, shall pass.

    Time will heal all wounds. In time, time, time time…

    and my LEAST favorite of all…
    “It’s not fair.”
    My response, show me what is fair. I actually don’t believe “fair” exists. Nor does closure or perfection.

  24. James  April 8, 2016 at 12:12 pm Reply

    Are you going to stay in that big house alone? You should sell it and move into something smaller.

  25. Nancy  February 13, 2016 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Here’s a real award winner that still has me reeling 7 months later. Five months after my adult son died from suicide, my “friend” thinks I should just pull myself up by my bootstraps, because “It’s not like he was a genius who helped alot of people in the world or anything”. Those were his exact words. I just lived thru the first anniversary of my sons death and am still shattered.

  26. Jillian  January 17, 2016 at 7:57 pm Reply

    Anything comment with god or heaven in it makes me want to scream !
    Oh and ” she’s still with you ” NO SHE’S NOT ! She’s DEAD !

  27. Kelly  October 16, 2015 at 6:50 pm Reply

    I especially dislike: “God must have needed another angel.” Bad theology; dismissive; insensitive….

  28. Vicki  September 12, 2015 at 7:40 pm Reply

    They didn’t say “God has a plan” to us, they said “It was God’s Will,” which IMO sounds even WORSE than He has a plan. And one day after it happened, or a minute after you tell them about it they’re already saying you have to “accept” it.
    I was so numb when it first happened I thought that WAS acceptance. When realization of what had happened and that our loved one was involved in it started setting in, it felt like someone had hit me in the side of the head with a sledge hammer. Which incidentally felt like the opposite of coping with it.
    I think telling my daughter was the hardest thing to do. It’s her dad and she was really close to him.

    Also, I don’t think people should tell my friends their son is “in a better place” when he died being shot by a gunman and he was 15 when it happened.
    I’d still like to know HOW a victim of murder is “in a better place.” Wouldn’t that seem to imply that murder isn’t that bad?

  29. Barb  September 3, 2015 at 11:40 pm Reply

    “God had other plans for him” umm, I kinda think me and my two boys (5&11) needed him more at this point

  30. Maggie  September 3, 2015 at 10:24 pm Reply

    Add “It’s okay” and “You’ll get over it” to this list.

  31. Helen  August 12, 2015 at 12:08 pm Reply

    “How old’s your mum? You never know, she might remarry!” My dad’s been gone for less than two weeks. This is not something I am thinking about right now.

  32. Deb  June 25, 2015 at 10:31 am Reply

    Oh, where to even begin?! I seem to be a magnet for the “worst of the worst.” Aside from some of these classics, here are some other doozies I’ve been handed from the toxic, ignorant, empathy-less, outright cruel and insensitive bozos in this world:
    – From a (quasi) SIL: “Don’t you think that’s rather SELF-INDULGENT of you to be grieving your mother for so long?” (a mere 2 months after her death) Then rationalized away by, “Well, after all, she was old.” (in her 80’s)
    – From the same SIL, and because my brother and I been estranged for several years, BUT had reconnected (due to our mother’s illness, then death) for a few months before HIS death, and regarding this brother’s sudden death right on the heels of my mother’s, “Do you actually CARE that your brother died?”
    – “Oh.” Not even an “I’m sorry” in tandem, and rapidly followed by a recounting of their own worries about someone THEY love. Zero acknowledgement, period.
    – “Are you STILL grieving?!” (only 3 months in)
    – A derisive snort, followed by, “NO one grieves that much over a CAT!” That last word cruelly SPAT out. (my cats were my very FURCHILDREN, not merely or “just” animals)
    – The dismissive “I’m sorry to hear that.” As if they’ll give a perfunctory nod to your pain, but it’s really all about them and how you’ve now ‘disrupted’ their own life with your “news.” They’re not that sorry about your specific grief so much as about having to bear the burden of HEARING about it from you.

    Even in discussing ANTICIPATORY or imagined grief or worries about how I’ll do if someone dies while I’m still alive myself, I’ve gotten these unbelievable responses:
    – In a vulnerable state, and considering I’m basically all alone without any friends or family where I live, in sharing how I’d feel or what I’d likely do if I lost my spouse, no offer from a distance friend to even BE there for me in any capacity, but simply a glib “oh, you’ll do whatever you have to. You’ll be fine.”
    – And when innocently asking how he’d react if I died first, even my spouse said he’d be “upset,” but still “wasn’t sure” he’d even CRY if I died before him!!!

    There have been far more, including the “you’re so strong” one, but I’ve come away so additionally damaged and hurt from all these insensitive responses, I’m now not just afraid of losing someone else I love, but of all the extra cruelty that is likely to follow my loss!!!

  33. judy  June 3, 2015 at 1:50 am Reply

    I will never ever forget how many people said to me “You are so strong, I don’t know how you did it !! I could never manage it” What did they think – someone knocked on my door and said, “You’ve won a sick kid” and I said “Bring it on” Nobody gave me a choice !! I did what I had to do for my little girl, to keep her alive for 25 more months, No more and certianly NO less !! I wasn’t given a moment to decide if I wanted to do it, or even if I could do it !! You can only play the hand you are dealt !! I am sorry for your loss !!

    • Eleanor  June 14, 2015 at 12:37 pm Reply

      Ahhh..you’re so strong! I forgot about that one. That’s going on the next list. What looks strong to someone else is merely survival sometimes.

  34. Henrietta  June 2, 2015 at 5:10 pm Reply

    I actually got so fed up with people telling me how amazing I was after my daughter died. They’d just look straight into my eyes, get all teary and sincere, and say,’ but Henrietta you’re so amazing I don’t know how you do it’ And I’d think, every time…do what…shout at my kids still and sometimes feel too frozen to cry and have a row with my partner and not have time to even feel let alone grieve….
    I really hated that. And people still say it.

  35. Cindy  May 31, 2015 at 11:11 pm Reply

    My 33 year old son killed himself. You would believe the people that gave ask me why. I ask myself that everyday but it is not what I want to hear.

  36. judy  May 30, 2015 at 1:43 am Reply

    My 7 yr old died 31 years ago and I still get this and yes it still hurts !! So VERY many people said “you’ll have more children” , but I wasn’t that lucky !! Besides it wouldn’t have changed how much I loved and still love her !! How could she be in a better place, she doesn’t have her mom !! And no I will never get over it, time does not heal all wounds and God may have wanted her, but I needed her !!

  37. Heather  May 29, 2015 at 1:44 am Reply

    Thanks for the post. I heard all of those when my dad died eleven years ago. He had a heart attack at 76 years old and everyone told me he had a good life which made me so angry. Finally, I figured out I would look them in the eye and say, “Yes, but I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.” People usually backed off right away.

    When my 34 year old niece, Rachel, died very suddenly in December from septic shock it was totally different. People didn’t know what to say because they were so stunned. So they either just hugged us, said how sorry they were or best of all shared wonderful stories about her.

    I am convinced that people say these ridiculous things to make themselves feel better because they are so uncomfortable facing the emotions tied to loss. I had a friend lose her boyfriend in a car accident and I just sat with her and listened to her talk and held her hand. She said later that the fact that I would just listen to her helped her process so much of what was going on or we would just sit quietly. It wasn’t my job to make her feel better but to be a caring friend.

  38. Mira  May 28, 2015 at 4:31 pm Reply

    I hate when people tell me how strong I am, especially when they follow it up with ” I think I would just die if this happened to me.” But my least favourite is, ” you have to remember you have other children”. Like I forgot or they somehow take the place of the child I lost?

  39. Chelsea  May 28, 2015 at 4:05 pm Reply

    I wrote “post” but I meant “most” apparently my dyslexia is in full force today… sorry.

  40. Chelsea  May 28, 2015 at 4:02 pm Reply

    Oh can I relate to this one… I mean, most people repeat these less than helpful classics (or variations of them) because they really don’t know what else to say. I get that, I experienced it this past winter when my friend’s dad died, having been through a terrible loss myself in the past, with a less than helpful but well meaning support system, I knew to try to stay away from those… mostly what I found myself doing was listening and when she needed it to maintain her sanity, I tried to provide a distraction from what was going on. Sometimes being the listener, the hugger, and the shoulder to cry on is the best you CAN do.
    Grief is an intensely personal thing, to truly understand someone’s grief you need to intimately understand their relationship with the departed loved one in question, but it can’t really be done without being inside another person’s head.
    In a response to a previous comment I made on a different post, you offered condolences for the loss of my brother (thank you), which is accurate, Matt was my brother, but not by blood, we were best friends, probably closer than post little brothers are with their older sisters. I think part of the problem with these phrases is they are another person imposing their own inclinations onto another person’s feelings, on another person’s relationship with someone else. It’s just not accurate to try to put relationships of any kind into a solid box, outside of which nothing is understood or considered valid, 99.8% of the time they are just more complicated than such simplistic ideas can sustain.
    The worst “comfort” statements I ever heard we’re ones that just completely invalidate the person they’re said to. Similar to “Don’t Cry” I used to get “life is for the living” or my personal “favorite” (sarcasm), was a variation of your #4: “We kept him alive for seven years…” which, is longer than Matt was expected to live because of 2 major health problems one of which did eventually do him in. At the time though, my response when people at his visitation or at his parents’ house would say that was always “Yeah but…he was just a little boy…I’m 9 and still have my whole life ahead of me… He got 7 but he should’ve had 80!”
    As for the “he’s in a better place now” or “It was God’s will”, those…are…true…but the person in grief needs to reach a point emotionally when they can accept them on their own…it took me five years…having that said in the first weeks, months, or even years isn’t just unhelpful, but can actually be really harmful. If a person is a spiritual or religious person it can really mess up their ideas about God from something that can be a huge comfort into something toxic. There are some things we just need to work out for ourselves.

  41. sandra  May 28, 2015 at 3:41 pm Reply

    how about life goes on, at least you had him, cherish the memories, what would henry want for you, you are young you will find someone else, there is lots of good men in the world, get over it, you need to get out and date again, i could go on and on, fyi, im only 10 months in, aarrgggghhhh, people are DUMB

  42. Carla  May 28, 2015 at 2:59 pm Reply

    How about, “you need to get a hobby.”

  43. Pam  May 28, 2015 at 12:52 pm Reply

    Those are perfect. I have a friend who does Hospice work and she will appreciate those so much.

  44. Natalia  May 28, 2015 at 12:39 pm Reply

    “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” What?!? All that made me think of was jumping out of one!!

  45. Clif Martin  May 28, 2015 at 12:37 pm Reply

    I love this one. How about “I know how you feel.” There’s a big plug for you in my “Death Happens” blog. http://www.tadrn.blogspot.com

  46. Ashley wheeler  May 28, 2015 at 12:10 pm Reply

    I’d like to add “just take things one day at a time” to this list… Because if “time heals all wounds” then I’d like to take many more days at a time than one. Maybe 7 at a time.. The process would really speed up then, huh? And where are all these people that take multiple days at a time? I’d like to join them!

Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.