7 Things to Avoid Saying to Someone Grieving
We’ve all been there – that awkward moment when we don’t know what to say to someone. I have to tell you, though, that the worst comes from people trying to comfort the bereaved. It’s tough to know what to say, and while later, when the person whom you’re trying to comfort can look back and know you were trying your best, for now, what you say (and don’t say) matters.
Here are the top 7 things people said to me that didn’t mean anything (and yes, I do know they were trying to help, but still). Please try to avoid saying these things to someone grieving:
1. How are you? I know, I know. That sounds like the right thing to say especially because when you say it to someone grieving, you typically really mean it. You truly want to know how they are doing. The thing is, for the person grieving there is no answer to that. When it’s a deep grief that cuts into a soul, the answers that go through the mind but that don’t dare come out have to do with how terrible the person feels…how they don’t want to get up in the morning…how they wish they had died too (and feel kind of like they have). We are conditioned from an early age that the answer to ‘how are you’ is ‘fine’ because, really, who wants to hear our specific woes. And so, rather than telling the good-intentioned asker how we really are, we just say ‘fine’. And then that follows with a wash of bitterness for not being able to truly answer because of the fear that no one really understands (or cares).
2. God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Right now, He has, so apparently that’s not true.
3. They’re in a better place. Um, sorry. No. A better place is here. Alive. Later, the spiritual aspect will provide comfort. Right now, it’s just an irritating, meaningless comment.
4. When my loved one died, I… Don’t try to compare. I know it’s common to want to find a connection to relate to the one grieving, but don’t. For the bereaved, they can only focus on the one they lost.
5. There’s a reason for everything. There’s no reason. Don’t say there’s a reason. What could the reason be for this person whom I loved so dearly to die? Did I not pray enough? Was he not good enough? Did we not have faith enough? If there’s a reason, I don’t want to hear it.
6. God needed another angel. As beautiful as this sounds, it doesn’t even really mean anything at all. Pretty words to try to cover up an ugly situation. While again, I’m sure there will be a time when the bereaved can hear these words and understand that you are just trying to help, for the newly bereaved thoughts run more towards, “Why does God get him instead of me. I’m the one who needs him (her).” It reminds, reinforces, or even causes anger towards God.
7. Call me if you need anything. Some day the bereaved might be able to look back, remember you offered, and appreciate that you were being thoughtful. In the midst of grief, however, this won’t get through to them. They are not going to call you. While grief has debilitated them, they also hesitate to ask for help. It’s common for them to try to pretend to be okay because they think that’s what’s expected of them. Most feel that they don’t want to be any bigger of a nuisance than they already think they are.
In addition, most of those in grief don’t even know what they need. How then would they know what to call you about?
Now, I know that’s quite a few don’ts as far as what not to say. I do think it’s important to say or do something, so please don’t hold back. If you’re not sure how you can help and would like some ideas, read my post, 5 Ways to Help Someone Who’s Grieving.
Surviving grief isn’t easy, but you aren’t alone. Here are more posts on grief and grieving:
7 Scriptures to Help Survive Grief
Prayer and Scripture for When You Need Permission to Grieve
7 More Scriptures to Help When You’re Grieving
5 Ways to Help Someone Grieving
How I Became Thankful in Grief
Learning to Manage Anger in Grief
Boy! I’ve buried two husbands in my lifetime,(42 & 64) & I can’t believe how right on you were with your writings about what NOT to say!!! Let me add, regarding sending cards!! DITTO!!! With a HUGE caveat regarding cards showing that (blank) empty chair! The best thing I found, was those who showed up to help me, either by praying or talking (o.k. Crying) with me, or those who simply marched in and did whatever needed doing. Those who said they “couldn’t imagine what I was feeling at that time, but they were (are) so sorry for my pain” were so welcome! Oh, and try to warn folks, that grief has absolutely NO time limit!!! To this day, I still can be brought to my knees just hearing an old song, some mentioning a place we both loved, even though it’s been 30 years, 6 days and 19 & 1/2 hour since his death. I wish you well in your endeavors to help with those grieving. Blessings!!!
Julie Pfeifer says
Exactly! No time limit at all! I’m so sorry for your loss and will keep you in my prayers. Thank you so much for sharing! ~Julie