what NOT to say to someone who is grieving

in my life time i’ve faced a fair amount of grief. i’ve also spent a significant amount of time with others who have experienced losses of all kinds: large ones, expected ones, shocking ones, seemingly small ones. one thing remains universally similar across losses. they are all significant (read “VERY SIGNIFICANT”) to the person who has suffered them.

given the personal significance of experienced loss, those in the grieving individuals’ support systems often have little idea of how to best respond. so, without thinking, all manner of comments from benign to glorious fall off the tongues of people with the best of intentions. all too often, however, these comments create further pain, coming off as insensitive at best and hurtful at worst. for example, someone is not necessarily malicious when they say to a grieving person, “i know EXACTLY how you feel” but these particular words are rarely accurate or comforting. so...by way of helping you identify what NOT to say to a friend who is grieving, i offer the following suggestions (all based upon actual comments made to myself or people i know).

do NOT say the following things (or variations of them):

when a person has died:

at least they had a life insurance policy.

God just needed another angel.

it was their time.

it was for the best.

now you can move on.

were they saved?

this all serves some greater purpose.

you must be so relieved that they are in heaven.

i was just sooooooooo sad and shocked when i heard. i cried and cried. i have been telling everyone about “such and such’s” passing. i can’t believe how sad i am. i, i, i...

my mom/dad/grandma/neighbor/friend/dog/gold fish died and....

when a relationship or job ends:

you’re better off without that loser/stupid job.

it’s about time.

i was waiting for you to recognize what a hot mess your relationship/career was in.

you’ll find someone/something better. 

i just knew this wasn’t the right one for you. i could tell. i feel so glad for you but i also know it’s stressful. i, i, i...

when an object(s) is lost or taken (or perhaps when a home burns down):

God must have some lesson for you to learn.

now you will get to know what it means to “rely” in a new way.

you didn’t need those things anyway. all you need is God.

you’re being given the gift of simplicity.

with ANY form of loss:

i know EXACTLY how you feel (usually followed by long, rambling memorials to all of the loved ones, relationships, jobs, or things that they themself have lost).

instead, consider:

while some of the statements above (or variants of them) could well be delivered with love after some time has passed, most of these sentiments do nothing but hurt at the time of a loss (or shortly thereafter).

people who are grieving need space. they need to be heard. and loved. and fed. they are likely shocked and frightened and surprised by their own strong emotions so they rarely need you to bring any extra drama. they need someone to come and pick up their dirty laundry to return it washed and folded. they need to be sat with while they blabber on and on or cry in silence or stare into space. they need to be asked what is comforting to them. some will want to hold your hand while others will hold out hope that you won’t want to hug them. basically, they need you. not your words. maybe not even your actions. certainly not your platitudes.

next time you hear of a loss and you feel called to the individual suffering it, don’t try so hard. embrace the awkwardness of silence and not knowing what to do or say. ask a good question such as, “what do you need?” and then be quiet and listen. in waiting, being still and available, and “being with” there is comfort. there is deep speaking to deep and in our times of loss this is where we can be found.

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