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Grief: What NOT to Say to a Grieving Person

By Edited Jan 28, 2014 5 9

Everyone Grieves

Grief is an equal opportunity emotion. It overtakes everyone at some point in their lives and it often visits individuals more than once. For some, the stinging pain of grief is too much to take. The immense agony of losing a loved one can affect someone so deeply that sometimes their lives are never the same. 

Everyone grieves differently. Some desire to surround themselves with friends and family while others prefer to isolate and grieve privately. Some people appear to return to their normal lives forthwith while others drag along day after day, month after month and even year after year. Although there is no set rule for how long a person should grieve, if it has been over a year since you lost your loved one and you continue to experience deep feelings of sadness and loss, you should speak with a professional therapist or seek help from a religious organization.

Grief: What NOT to Say to a Grieving Person

Credit: morguefile. com by clarita

More Hurtful Than Helpful

The chances are quite high that you've probably said one of the following statements or perhaps someone has said them to you. Although most people are well-meaning folks, they can sometimes say things that end up being more hurtful than helpful.  I still remember a statement someone once said to me during a memorial service. A well-meaning person shook my hand and said "You're just beginning the grieving process. You’ve got a long way to go," talk about a downer! Although that person was speaking the truth, that was something I didn't need to hear at that time.

Here are other statements you should think twice about saying:

Don't Say

"I know how you feel." The fact of the matter is you don't know how a grieving person feels, everyone grieves differently. Making this statement to someone makes you the center of the conversation when you need to concentrate on the person who is grieving. You can start a conversation by saying something like "I can't imagine the pain you are going through."

"You're loved-one is in a better place." Although that may be true, the person who has just lost their loved one can't fathom any place that is "better" without them. Realize the pain of their absence and instead of saying "You’re loved-one is in a better place," wait for the person who is grieving to say it. 

"If there is anything I can do, just call me." Many have been guilty of saying this, including myself. But, have you ever noticed the person rarely calls. You cannot leave it up to the individual who is hurting to call you. Instead, you can say something like "I'm here for you," and then be proactive by calling or visiting the grieving person.

"It was God’s will." A person who has just lost a child does not want to hear that it was God's will to take their baby. This statement sounds judgmental and you do not speak for God so if you can't think of anything else to say, just hug the person and listen to them speak.

"You can have more children." Whether this is true or not, it is not a comforting statement. When a child dies, the last thing their parents want to hear is that they can have another child. No other child will ever replace the life of the precious child they are mourning.

Credit: morguefile.com by kamuelaboy

"It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." This is a great thing to say in theory but not after a person has lost the love of their lives.

"You must be strong for your children." People need to grieve and although they may not want to breakdown in front of their children, they can still exhibit sadness and teach their children about grief.

"You just got to get a hold of yourself." People need to cry or get angry in order to release the enormous pain within. Telling someone to get a hold of themselves does nothing to help the person but instead it just makes them self- conscious and their true emotions will grow and become pent-up within them.

"This is nature's way." Do not try to explain why someone has passed-away. First of all, you don’t know why and second, it is not comforting.

"Time will heal." While this is true, the person who is at the beginning of the bereavement stage does not want to hear how time will heal because they cannot see it. They are living with the pain now and they cannot imagine that they will feel any better in the future.

Credit: morguefile.com by jkt_de

"Life goes on." Yes, life does go on but for the grieving person, for a while, it seems as though life has stopped. When someone is hurting they don't want to hear about life going on, they just want to focus on the person they lost.

"No sense dwelling on the past." Talking about the past is just what a grieving person needs to do. It is healthy and helpful to talk about your loved one, and if you want to help someone who is grieving, encourage them to talk.

"If you look around you can always find someone worse off than yourself." Yes, there will always be other people that are worse off than you, however, during the height of heartbreak no one wants to think about other people who are worse off than them and that doesn’t really help.

"Count your blessings." Hum, let's see I've got my health, a home, and a job but I don't care about all those things because the only "blessing" I want is my loved one. Telling someone to count their blessings is not helpful because nothing can compare to the person they are missing so much.

"God needs him more than you do." First of all, God doesn't need any of us. Next, this statement may just serve to make a person angry with God.

Credit: morguefile.com by anitapeppers

"God did this to show how powerful He can be in your life." This is a very hurtful statement, not to mention offensive.

"God never gives us more than we can handle." Several people are fond of making this statement and it's fine to say when someone is not lamenting the death of a loved one.

"God helps those who help themselves." This is another statement people tend to make often, however when a person is hurting over a death they need compassion more than anything else. This statement is more along the lines of advice and should be saved for a later date or for another situation.

"You need to move on." Instead of saying this, try to recognize and acknowledge the pain a person has gone through and how far they have come.

Let's Talk About Death

By HarvestTV on YouTube

Compassionate Comments

Before you say something to a person in mourning, think about how that statement will impact them. Is it compassionate or hurtful? In addition don't avoid someone because you don't know what to say. Instead, just show up and listen. Lastly, do not avoid using the loved one's name. Use their name frequently and allow the grieving person to talk about their loved one as much as they want.

Remember, grief is an equal opportunity emotion and one day we will all feel the wretchedness of its enormous bite.  When you are thinking about what to say to someone that is grieving, think about what statement would comfort you the most during this most difficult time.

Helping People through Grief
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Mar 4, 2013 12:57pm
Great advice. The fact is that most of us don't react well to another's grief. Just 'being there' for the bereaved is as much as most of us can really do, and often that is enough.
Mar 22, 2013 3:33pm
Great article! Some of the things you are pointing out were clear NO-NO, but some were less obvious and I am glad to know what to avoid...
Mar 22, 2013 3:48pm
Wow! My sentiments exactly! Those seem like all of the phrases that people say. Alot of those things I can't even fix my tongue to speak those words to someone when grieving. I've been told all of those, and at the time I didnt understand. I'm sure that's why I don't seem to have many words for someone in grief. I can say , I have taken more of the listen and hug approach. I will be aware if this situation happens in the future. I will try my best to be proactive and just call,check on the person, and visit.
Apr 8, 2013 12:59am
Funny...... I saw a very, very similar article on squidoo.
Apr 8, 2013 7:50am
If you're talking about the topic and the subtopic points, I'm sure you'll find many of them on several websites not just Squidoo. My information comes directly from my own notes and material I received from a class I took over 5 years ago to help people who were grieving or struggling with other issues. I have my notebook to prove it. The words in the intro and under each heading are my own original content and everything I wrote comes from what I learned in that course and my own experiences.
Apr 8, 2013 10:13pm
Thank you for reading this article. Grieving is such a personal matter and people often do not know what to say or do. Maybe the best thing to do for someone grieving is to stay in their lives. Call them, visit, spend time with the person. Make sure that they know that you love them. Your article has done a great service to humanity.
Apr 9, 2013 12:59pm
This is a very useful article. Bookmarked! "Life goes on."--> This one I personally found to be horrible. Liked also 'grief is an equal opportunity' --> interesting sounding phrase. Thanks for writing!
Apr 10, 2013 11:55pm
Great article that I can totally relate to - wish I'd written it! One more thing I'd add for parents who have lost a child. You're right about not saying 'you'll get over it' but neither should you say - 'you'll never get over it'. There's a sense in which you never do but no way are they always going to feel as bad as they do now.
Apr 14, 2013 3:55pm
Excellent article. You articulated what I think.
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