Grief: What NOT to Say

I used to think that saying,“I’m so sorry for your loss” when someone died was the worst possible thing to say. It was like stating the obvious… as if I wouldn’t be standing in a line at a funeral home if I wasn’t sorry.

Recently I have learned that some of the things said to people who are grieving can range from ridiculous to insulting, and hurtful to downright unimaginable. In most cases, people genuinely want to help to ease the pain. That being said, if you’re not absolutely sure of what to say, or how what you’re thinking will sound when it comes out of your mouth, then – please say nothing – or simply say you are sorry, say it must be difficult, say I love you and I don’t know what to say. Read on for suggestions on what not to say and ideas on how to re-frame unhelpful and colossally hurtful comments.

The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief

  • “It was good that they went fast. They didn’t suffer.”
    When people die quickly, it does not allow time for those that remain to even begin to process what is happening. Rather than saying this, consider how the loved ones who are still living might feel. Try saying, “I am so sorry for you loss and can’t imagine how you are coping because it happened so quickly” instead.
  • “You need to slow down and sit with your grief.”
    This comment implies that there is one right way to process grief. There isn’t one right way. In fact living with grief looks different on every person and is as unique as a fingerprint. Introverts might need to sit with their grief, while an extrovert will process externally, and talk, and talk, and talk. If the person grieving is filling up their day with work or social events that’s okay. It’s all about titrating the feelings to a manageable level. If it looks like they are pushing their grief away, that’s okay too. When a person is ready to deal with their feelings they will, and if they aren’t ready, that’s fine too. Remember there is no one right way to cope with this thing called grief.
  • “You need to forgive and move on.”
    This comment is just insulting. It implies that you know how a person is feeling and you know how and what they should do. Do any of us actually know how the person standing in front of us feels? We can make assumptions. We can think we know best. But the bottom line is we don’t know. Empathy and kindness would be better suited here. Nothing about, “you need to move on and forgive” is empathetic or kind.
  • “Just get over it.”
    Similar to saying “move on” – this is ridiculous. Stating “just get over it” is not helpful. What does that even mean? How does one get over grief? You learn to live with grief. And that is different for every person. It is not for us to judge how a person deals with grief.
  • “Your family always caused you pain. Just forget about them.”
    This comment should be added to the top of the “Worst Things to Say” list. It is both thoughtless and insulting. If you think you are being helpful by making this comment, please know that it is not helpful. Family is forever. The good, the bad and the ugly. Statements like this cause even more heartache for the people left behind.

Making comments like the ones mentioned above do not help ease the pain. Rather, they compound the pain and make the person feel alone in their grief.

Remember, when in doubt, say nothing or try saying, “I love you” and give the person a hug (if possible) or say you’re sorry for their loss. In all things, kindness and empathy are the key.

Listening. Guiding. Caring.


1 thought on “Grief: What NOT to Say”

  1. These careless phrases can say so much about the emotional health of the speaker. They are loaded with the baggage of how each of them cope with loss and with the limits of their patience for others. Thank you for the good advice Annette.

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