What to Say (or Not to Say) to the Grieving

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On average, 6,000 people die each day in the United States.  It is only a matter of time before all of us will find ourselves in a position to show caring and support for someone experiencing the grief of losing a loved one.  However, many of us will find ourselves at a loss for words as we try to console them.

Many articles on grieving recommend that we don’t need to worry about what we say because the griever will know that your words are “well-meaning”, or stem from love and caring.  In reality, our “well-meaning” comments can offend, or even anger, the grieving, often making them feel worse.  The following are examples of the most offensive:

  • It wasn’t meant to be
  • Others have it worse than you
  • Everything happens for a reason
  • God will never give you more than you can handle
  • I know just how you feel
  • You must be strong

The above comments are not comforting, they are judgmental and controlling.  We often don’t know what to say, and so our own discomfort makes us try to minimize or fix the grief instead of understanding that our words may be hurtful.  Instead, take a more compassionate approach such as:

  • I’m so sorry for your loss
  • I’m sorry that you are going through this
  • I don’t have the right words to say, but please know that I care
  • Let’s get a cup of coffee
  • I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I am here to help
  • You and yours are in my thoughts or prayers

Responses like this are helpful and supportive because they are not judgement or controlling.  They do not try to fix what is not fixable, or tell the grieving what to feel, think, or do.  At some point in all of our lives, we might be in their shoes and try to think about what you would want someone to say to you.

Remember that in the initial days and weeks following a death, the mourner is surrounded by many people.  However, after a month or two, and when their supporters have returned to their own schedules, the grieving may feel abandoned.  Keep in touch with them.  Tell funny stories, or recount special memories.  Thought nothing can erase grief, we can be present and supportive.  It’s never wrong to be kind, considerate, caring, and thoughtful.