Five Things You Should Never Say to Someone Grieving
Grief is something none of us can escape. Every human being will come face to face with it at some point in their lives – usually more than once. Unfortunately, the universality of loss does not mean that it is easy to know what to say to someone grieving. Oftentimes, it can cause us to be at a complete loss for words. Perhaps even more important than saying the right thing, though, is to avoid saying the wrong thing.
The next time you find yourself struggling with what to say to someone close to you who has experienced a deep loss, remember to refrain from these five common phrases, which can often do more harm than good:
1. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
Chances are you’ve uttered this very well-meaning comment to someone at one point or another – most of us have. However, the burden to act is then on the grieving person, and they are very unlikely to reach out with a specific request.
2. “At least you had lots of great years together.”
This is another well-meaning comment that can be construed as minimizing a bereaved person’s pain. Even if they had many wonderful years with their lost loved one, it doesn’t take away any of the very real pain associated with the loss – and it can make a person feel like their entirely normal feelings of sadness, pain, and anger are not valid.
3. “It was God’s will.”
It is usually best to avoid any discussion of theology, even if you know the person to be religious or spiritual. Knowing a griever’s belief system isn’t enough to ensure this comment will not offend, and it’s not likely to make them feel better while in the depths of loss. Furthermore, it does nothing to actually recognize or address their pain.
4. “Try to be strong.”
The loss brings a multitude of emotions, and it’s important for a bereaved person to feel each and every one of them fully. Comments like this one insinuate that it’s best to conceal or bury sadness or moments of weakness – which are completely common to experience on a grief journey. Ignoring these moments will only lead to more pain because the bereaved person won’t be allowing themselves the grace to acknowledge their real feelings and face them head-on. That process is important for beginning to move forward and engage with life again.
5. “Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?”
In spite of the fact that grief is something that is a natural part of the human condition, it remains an individual experience for every person who loses someone they love. Our culture has a bad habit of making bereaved people feel that their time is “up,” and that does not show appropriate respect for the intensely personal grieving process they are living through.
We all struggle with knowing what to say – and what not to say – when someone is grieving. However, don’t let this discourage you from making an effort to contact a person who is experiencing the pain of a loss. Avoidance can hurt even more than the wrong comment, so consider simply being present even if you find yourself at a loss for words.