Things Not to Say To Someone Who is Grieving

I recently read a long string of “supportive” comments on Facebook to someone who had just suffered a devastating loss.  I know people mean well, but many of the usual things people say do not help, and in fact may well make things worse.

1.  At the very top of my list is, “It was God’s will.”  Even if this is true – which I don’t believe – it is not helpful.  It is not comforting, at ALL.  Think about it – if you lost a child to cancer or an accident, do you really want to contemplate that God WANTED that to happen?  The only exception to this is if the person who suffered the loss says it.  I still don’t buy it, but I’m certainly not going to argue if they can self-comfort with the thought.

2.  Right up there with #1 is “There’s a reason for everything.”  Again, I don’t believe it.  I suppose you could argue that there is always cause and effect at work, but that doesn’t mean there’s a GOOD reason for everything.  And even if there were… again, not comforting.  And again, the only appropriate use of this is by the ones who are suffering and can comfort themselves with this idea.

3.  In the case of a miscarriage, don’t tell someone, “Well, there probably was something wrong with the baby, so it is for the best.”  Seriously, this is not comforting.  It is the exact opposite of comforting.

4.  Along with that one is, “You will have more children.”  Would you tell someone whose spouse just died, “Well, you can always get married again.” ? 

5.  Don’t go into a long lecture about how a loss you have suffered is so much worse than that of the one you are talking to.  This forces the listener into an attitude of comfort for you, and that is the last thing they need to be doing at this point.  This includes statements such as, “Well, at least they didn’t suffer as long as my [insert relative] did.”

6.  Here are a couple that aren’t harmful, but, in my opinion, are not really helpful either:  “At least he is not suffering any more,” and “He is in a better place.”  It IS good to know that someone you love is no longer suffering, but that doesn’t make you miss him or her less.

Those who are on the receiving end of any of these statements need to remember that those who say them are doing so with love, because they feel helpless to fix the problem and must say SOMETHING.  Just reply with, “Thank you,” and move on. 

Many times silence with a hug is far better than anything you can say.  If you must say something, try one of these:

1.  I’m so sorry for your loss.

2.  I can’t even imagine what you must be going through.

3.  I love you.

4.  You’re in my heart and in my prayers.

5.  Call me, day or night, if you need to talk or cry.

 

I am by no means perfect when it comes to handling grieving people.  These are just my thoughts, and I hope they are helpful to you.

 

 

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About amyenoch

My name is Amy Enoch. I have been married for 25 years to the love of my life. I have two daughters, ages 19 and 16. I live in the Dallas area. Mostly I am a stay-at-home mom, but I do work part-time in an office job, and I do some contract work from home when it is available. I'll update this as I think of stuff that might be pertinent!
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6 Responses to Things Not to Say To Someone Who is Grieving

  1. Amen, Sister. You are spot on.

  2. Mark Mercer says:

    Amy – This is absolutely accurate and enormously helpful to the jillions of people who really want to help but don’t know how. [For your readers who don’t know me, I was the Bereavement Director and counselor at a hospice for 18 years.] When Rosalind’s (my former wife) sister was murdered at about age 32, there are only three people I remember of the nice church folks who came by, and none of these three said one single word. (1) An old couple, in their 80’s, drove all the way across Abilene, hobbled up our front porch steps, walked into our living room, shook my hand, and gave Rosalind a hug. (2) One man, an arch-conservative I’d clashed with some in Sunday school, just walked in, with obvious pain all over his face and big tears in his eyes, hugged Rosalind, gave her a heart-felt holy kiss on the cheek, and left. His name was Skipper Richardson, and 30 years later I still love him for what he did for my wife. I didn’t care about his theology after that.
    Your post needs to be circulated among all your Facebook friends, and all their friends. You have hit the nail on the head, and I can’t tell you how badly people need this information.
    Love–Mark (B.)

    • amyenoch says:

      Mark, I am utterly ashamed that I had completely forgotten about Rosalind’s sister. When Mary died, I clearly remember the day of her funeral (worse than the day she died), standing in her kitchen with Rosalind and Kathy standing with me, and I burst into tears and turned into Rosalind’s arms. She knew my pain better than anyone, and I’m just now figuring that out.

  3. David says:

    Amy, I appreciate your being understanding to those who want to help but don’t know what to say, but they have to say something. People say things to make themselves less afraid. Love, David

  4. J.E.M Carter says:

    This is very true, and many of these responses are marketed as THE things to say in this situation, but you’re right, sometimes silence or a simple “I am here and I love you” is the absolute only appropriate response – you can’t bring them back, and someone is devastated by that so there is no consolation, only the living person’s need to deal with that. They could use someone’s open arms, not another example.

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