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What To Say, What Not To Say


When we are reaching out to someone who is grieving it is sometimes hard to know what to say. In our own discomfort we fall back on clichés. While well meant, they are usually not helpful and often make the grieving person feel worse.


Please Do Not Say:

  • I know just how you feel.

  • Time heals.

  • Think about how happy he is in heaven.

Because:

  • We cannot truly know what another person feels.

  • Time alone does not heal the pain.

  • While the bereaved may well believe in heaven, the pain of missing that person is still very real.

Say Instead:

 

This must be a hard time for you. Does it help to talk?


Please Do Not Say:

  • Be thankful he was not aware at the end.

  • He had a good life.

Because:

 

We are justifying the death from our perspective, not from the view of the bereaved. This discounts the grieving person’s pain.

 

Say Instead:

  • It must have been difficult to watch her in pain all those months.

  • I still miss her.

  • Are you finding it hard to fill the time?


Please Do Not say:

  • It will take two or three months to get over your grief.

  • Your grief will lessen in time.

  • You need to get on with your life.

Because:

 

These types of statements put limits on a person’s grief. Each of us needs to grieve in our own way and in our own time.

 

Say Instead:

  • I hope others are not trying to hurry you through your grief.

  • I have heard that each person grieves in their own way and in their own time.


Please Do Not Say:

  • I know someone who had two family members die at the same time.

  • At least you have others in your family.

  • There are other people worse off than you.



Because:

 

These statements tend to discount the impact of the death for the bereaved person.

 

Say Instead:

  • I wonder if you feel like you will never get better.

  • Expressing your tears and your pain will help you feel better eventually.

  • Sometimes talking to the person who has died can help you sort out your feelings.


Please Do Not Say:

  • You shouldn’t get so upset.

  • Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be so sad.

  • You can’t stay sad forever.

Because:

 

You deny the fact that being upset and expressing strong emotions is a very necessary part of the healing.

 

Say Instead:

 

It must be hard being so sad.

 

Please Do Not Say:

  • God needed him in heaven.

  • It was God’s will.

  • God does not give you more than you can handle.

Because:

 

These statements assume that we know God’s will.

 

Say Instead:

  • It must be hard to understand why these things happen.

  • Sometimes life is just not fair.

  • There is no way to justify why this happened.


Please Do Not Say:

  • It is better to put this painful experience out of your mind.

  • Just think happy thoughts.

  • It is time to get on with your life.

Because:

 

You deny the grieving person the opportunity to deal with the grief.

 

Say Instead:

  • Remembering the person who died is part of the healing.

  • I understand that for a while it is hard to think about anything other than the person who died.

  • I did not know your loved one but it would be a privilege to listen.

 

Please Do Not say:

  • The death of your baby should not be hard. You really didn’t know her.

  • Your mother was elderly, so it must be easier for you.

  • She was a good friend—you were lucky to know her. Why are you upset?

Because:

 

We cannot judge the depth of the relationship one person has for another.

 

Say Instead:

  • When a baby dies we lose part of the future.

  • When a parent dies, no matter their age or circumstances of their death, we lose a part of our history.

  • No one can judge the depth of the relationship one person has with another.


True support does not mean that we are there to cheer the person up. We are there to be present to the bereaved. The gift of listening is powerful. Many bereaved people need to talk about the death over and over again. Other times the bereaved may need to be quiet. Allow for the silence. Your presence alone can be comforting. True, effective support is not dependent upon how much we say but rather on our presence and how effectively we listen.





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