Only 5 you may be thinking? Because if you ask anyone who has recently lost a loved one, what are five things they’ve heard that have been unhelpful, misguided or just downright hurtful you’d find they could probably give you a hundred.
Here are 5 things NOT to say to someone who is grieving:
- The house is too big for you now. Figuring out what to do with a loved one’s “stuff” after they’ve died is hard enough. Clean it out right away or keep it for awhile? There’s no right answer. So a friend or family member telling the griever that perhaps THEY should consider moving may not be welcomed at all. The bereaved are already faced with so many decisions and so much paperwork, they may not feel at all ready to add anything else to that list. And let’s face it, moving to a new house can be exhausting under the best of circumstances. Also, while some may find it hard to be in the place where their loved one no longer is, the prospect of moving to a place they’ve never been may be even harder. So, is the house too big? Maybe. Is it too much for the griever to handle on their own? Perhaps. But if they’re not ready to make the move at the moment, it’s a decision that every person around them needs to respect. A better idea would be for friends and family to offer help with things like the yard or general maintenance of the house, as a way of helping the griever.
- Do you think you’ll get married again? Prior to working with the bereaved, if you asked me “what do people commonly say to a person who has recently lost a spouse?” I would never put this on the list. Because who would say this to someone? Um, a lot of people. In fact so many widows and widowers tell me that friends and family can’t help but ask this question in some form or another. Are you dating again? Are you going out to meet people? I wrote about this recently, and the response was clear: this is a very personal topic and people feel very strongly one way or the other. Regardless of which “side” the griever is on, it’s just not something they want out there for general discussion or casual conversation. If the griever brings it up fine. Otherwise, don’t ask.
- You were so lucky to have him/her for the time you did. Most likely it will be the adult child of an older parent who will hear this, but not always. Bottom line, no amount of time is enough time with the people we love. And feel free to tell the people who say this just that.
- He/she is in a better place now. Really? Because I think the best place is for them to be here with me. Overall this is a pretty desperate statement, something someone says when they really have no idea what else to say. The problem is that it feels so wrong to the griever. Not to mention the religious implications that go along with it. We can’t make assumptions about a person’s belief system, and even if we know what their faith is, we don’t know if this loss is causing the griever to question that faith a bit. Even if the griever and the one saying it do share a belief in a better place, it may still be hard for the griever to accept their loved one being there.
- I know how you feel. This may be the hardest of all. Because, yes, this is a genuine attempt to relate which is all we can try to do with one another. And this may not be so bad if you’ve lost a spouse and the person you’re talking to has also lost a spouse. Still, grief is unique, just as each griever is unique, and every situation from one person to the next is just so different. Even within our own family, and even when we think we understand and we can relate, we can never truly know how a person actually feels. A better thing here would be to say, “I can only imagine how you feel”. In so many ways the same sentiment, yet a wholly different approach in trying to connect.
The real issue with the above statements is that they can leave the bereaved feeling disconnected and misunderstood. When that happens to me, when I’m struggling with someone who has hurt or offended or upset me in some way, I try and break it down to one simple question, “did they intend to upset/hurt/offend me?”. Because to me, intention is everything.
I believe in the goodness of people and I think for most people their intention is to try and help. The trouble is, they just don’t know what to say. They’re lost, confused, scared. This grieving person in front of them is a puzzle they don’t know how to solve, and they’ll try anything to make it less awkward. Yes, this results in more awkwardness a lot of the time. And let’s face it, a quick awkwardness may be the best case scenario. Because this lack of understanding, and this not knowing how to comfort someone who is bereaved can result in something so much worse. It can leave a griever feeling misunderstood, isolated and alone.
Still, when thinking about the person who says or does the wrong thing – what was their intention? And if you can’t say or believe they intended to help or do good, then we can at least ask ourselves, “did they intend to do harm?”. Usually this one is easier to answer.
Because no matter how hurtful or misguided or simply wrong a person may have been at an attempt to say something to the griever, in almost every case I would guess they did not intend to make the griever feel worse. And if I’m wrong, I would always prefer to error on the side of believing in the goodness in people.
This information is important because while it shouldn’t be the griever’s job to be open-minded and accepting of those around them it certainly makes it easier if we can find the space to do that.
Forgiving those who don’t understand, for what they just can’t understand, is one way to connect to those around us. It’s part of the personal and even spiritual growth that a griever can experience through their loss. Forgiving the people who don’t know any better, and simply say the wrong thing because of it can help decrease our isolation and in the end… make us feel less alone.
If you’re struggling to find those who understand you’re loss and what you’re going through, know that there is help. Our members are here to find support and to give support…to talk and share, but also to listen. You can create profiles, and search for others based on the criteria that is important to you. Join today.
21 thoughts on “5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who is Grieving”
Your a christian, be strong,she is out of pain, she is in a better place,get over it alot more has been said to me i didnt like
i hear the second one a lot
I heard the second one a lot
The two that bother me most, “There’s a reason for everything,” and “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Oops, there’s a third, “How do you do it?” To that one I answer,”If you can figure out how I can avoid doing it, please let me know.”
A friend saying “you need to join a support group” hurt because I thought that my friend was part of my support group only to find out they are not
Oh my, I’m not sure what my response to those comments would have been but I would have been so hurt. True or not. I’m never going to be the “same” again and excuse me if I’m sad, my world just fell apart.
My husband died 6 weeks ago and my world fell apart. I was proud to nurse him and allow his last wish to die at home. I hate the words please accept my condolences. Such a cold world.
You are not the same person you used to be ( no kidding ) you should go to the doctor and get antidepressants. ( REALLY?) you just don’t seem happy anymore. ( whatever gave her that idea ?)
My husband has FTD, a form of dementia. He’s been in a memory care facility for two years now. News flash people, not all dementias are Alzheimer’s & people die from it. More than one person has told me I’m young & will marry again. He’s not even dead & I hear this! It’s cruel. Another is I don’t know how you do it. My response, I wasn’t given a choice.
“You’re young. You’ll find someone else.” (It took me 33 years to find my husband after years of heartbreak and single parenting. Then he dies less than 6 months later. Suddenly it’s easy to find your soulmate?)
“Are you seeing a psychologist?”
“It will get better with time.” (how do you know?)
“You need to process your grief.” (I don’t want to process my grief. I just want my husband back.)
“Well, at least you don’t have all 8 kids to deal with” (Really? The loss of my husband AND 6 out of 8 children from our family who had to return to their bio-mom – who had previously signed off on custody- is easier than just the loss of my husband? Not 1 but 7 people lost from our lives.)
Our friend in France who knew my partner over 20 of the 44yrs we were together planned to turn up on my door step without telling me to help me grieve – I found out through the same FB group she didn’t know we both belonged to and was able to tell her thank you but I would handle my grief in my own way – I wanted to cry alone – I felt she should have asked me first if she should come over.
I think one of the most heartless, thoughtless, rude comments I heard when my wife passed away was, “What are you going to do now?” When I said, “About what?”, this person said about a new companion. I replied, “WHAT???!!!!”, we didn’t have her funeral service and you’re asking me THAT!” I don’t want a companion…I WANT MY WIFE BACK. It is not, necessarily the sexual intimacy I miss, it is the loss of my best friend, my confidant and the woman that raised the children with me, and the beautiful person she was inside and out. I think she got the point because she became so quiet and someone else told her that she was being insensitive.
Two weeks after my husband passed away at the age of 57, my sister said to me, “I really hope you will date again and when you do, I have someone in mind.” It’s the closest I have ever come to slapping her face.
I have had people, who are not very close to me saying, “You’re not alone”. Well, in grief one is alone. One can have people supporting them, but grief’s a journey one has to take oneself.
December 23, 2020 at 2:32pm
My wife passed away in my arms. And a person said to me the other day “I know how you feel “ I turned to him and said no you don’t and walked away. I wich they would just say I,m sorry. I am so sad, I just want my wife Mary back.
A married woman at church said, “I know just how you feel. My husband was out of state for over a year.” (Oh, really, then why is your husband sitting next to you?!)
At the time, I was so stunned I didn’t know how to respond.
I never pretend to understand someone’s loss. I simply offer them a hug and say I’m sorry.
My daughter’s MIL after asking how I was, then said I know how you feel, I’ve been through it. I said, Oh has your husband died? He was sitting next to her. She was talking about the death of her 84 yo mother who died 15 years ago. My 69 yo husband had died just 3 weeks earlier. I had been his caregiver during his 9 month cancer illness. I wanted to slap her.
Oh my favorite after my dad died “We knew it was coming”.He had been diagnosed with cancer for 3 years. Another goodie from a an ex-boss “I’m sorry I don’t understand. Both of my parents are still alive”
I lost my darling wife in May 2020 after 60 loving years. I have constant support from 3 loving daughters but my pain is so much I want to die and be at peace with my darling wife.
Some say that is being a selfish attitude and you should be taking the role of supporting your daughters but my life is constant misery and pain
I often get told that I should be grateful I got 22 years of such a happy marriage filled with so much love. That many people never have a soul mate or such a strong love in their lives.
I’m not saying that isn’t true but the only practical result of a statement like that is that now, in addition to my grief, I also feel guilt ABOUT my grief.
these comments are so very true. my wife of 43 years died january 1,2021 after a very short period from cancer. at least she died peacefully in a hospics style situation at home. I seriously thought of suicide
at that time but thought that the 3 kids and 5 grandkids would suffer too much. earlier this year I lost the ability to walk after falling several times a day. but i am ok now and walk a dog about a mile a day. I really miss my wife so much. I loved and love her dearly.