People often say careless or ignorant things that they hope will help people in loss, but instead they make it harder for those who are grieving to feel cared for and understood. Believe it or not, the following statements are common, but they are 10 things I actually advise people not to say.
Why do so many platitudes trip off our tongues when we are trying to support a griever? We’ve isolated grief so fully that we don’t know what helps and what hurts someone who’s already in a lot of pain. Sometimes we are trying to help them feel better, to fix their pain. Sometimes, it’s a knee jerk reaction to deflect our own discomfort. We may not know what to say… but something just slips out.
Don’t say these things to someone who is grieving:
Here are some of the careless things people in my grief groups have heard (and what some of them wished they’d been able to say in reply.) You’ll see there is a little bit of anger, and some self-doubt in their answers.
- I know just how you feel. ** You have no idea how I feel. ** Sometimes even I don’t know how I’m feeling. ** You didn’t know him or what our life was like. ** How can you know the pain I feel in my heart?
- Don’t worry – it will get better. ** How do you know that? It doesn’t feel like that to me. ** I can’t imagine a happy future; how dare you tell me what my life is going to be like. ** Don’t worry?? My life is falling apart and you’re telling me I should pretend that it’s all OK.
- Crying is only going to make it worse. ** I am doing this all wrong; crying must be a sign of weakness. ** Will I really feel better if I don’t cry? ** Maybe I really shouldn’t be crying. ** How can I going to get through this if I can’t even stop crying.
- It could have been worse. ** What could be worse than having my whole world fall apart? ** How dare you tell me that things could have been harder than they are. ** Do you think I should feel lucky? ** Do you think I am making too much out of this?
- He’s in a better place. ** I thought this was a pretty good place. ** I don’t know ‘where he went’ – how can you? ** But he’s not with me now, and we loved each other so much. I don’t want to be without him.
- She would want you to get on with your life. **Maybe I’m not moving as fast as I should be. ** Maybe I’m stuck. ** How do you know what she would want?
- Keep busy, so you don’t think about it so much. ** Is something wrong with me that I can’t get this out of my mind? That I know something is terribly wrong inside even when I’m not thinking about it? ** I can’t focus on anything long enough to get anything done, so I’m worthless. ** I do like being busy; I do like keeping my mind engaged but then there are times when I fall back into it and can’t get out of just feeling eaten up and exhausted.
- I know how you feel… my ____ died. ** You didn’t know my husband. ** Don’t compare my loss to yours. ** You’re not listening to me; this isn’t about you.
- Are you over the worst of it yet? ** What is the worst of it? ** Something is worse every day. ** When am I supposed to know that it’s going to get better?
- Death isn’t an ending, it’s the beginning of the next phase of our evolution. ** I’ll never put my arms around her again – it feels like an end to me. ** How dare you tell me about your belief system; that’s not mine. ** Are you really trying to make me feel better when you say that? Really?
The good news is that if you do say one of the ’10 things NOT to say’ – or something just as goofy and insensitive, it’s almost always a good idea to acknowledge your blunder, and offer your intention.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say something that hurt you. I just wanted to let you know I want to support you.
And the best news is that there is one thing that is 99.99% successful – and very easy to do. Just listen. No need to add anything. One man told me that he will never forget going to work and having a coworker just put his hand on his shoulder. It was as if he was saying, without words, I’m here for you.
Have you ever been caught off guard, and said something you’ve later regretted? Click here for more suggestions about what to say to someone who is grieving. Or connect with Kim Mooney of Practically Dying for support, or to set up a workshop or private consultation.