What to Do When Someone is Grieving

What do you say when an acquaintance, friend or relative loses a family member, particularly a child? The less, the better. I was a pastor for almost 15 years. I saw a lot of people in deep grief. Pastors are among the first people called when life is at its toughest.

I heard a lot of damaging and downright stupid things from very well-meaning people.

In the early stages of grief, there is really nothing you can say that will help. Think about it. Are you wise enough to come up with the perfect words that will suddenly transport someone out of deep grief? No. And even if you could, you shouldn’t. Grief is a necessary part of healing. Don’t want to heal? Don’t grieve. You cannot go around this process. You have to go through it.

Saying things like ‘God just needed another angel’ are stupid and insensitive. First of all, the deceased is not turning into an angel in heaven. Angels are angels. People are people. We will be in the presence of God and His angels, but we will not be angels.

But that’s a theological discussion for another day.

What is helpful when someone is grieving? The best thing you can do is say that you’re sorry and embrace them. They might want to hang on to you for awhile. Let them. Don’t put words in God’s mouth. Death sucks. God thinks it sucks too. It wasn’t part of the original plan. God is not sitting in heaven waiting for the opportune moment to take someone out of this world in a car wreck or workplace accident or illness. Bad things just happen, everyday, because we live in a fallen world.

Offer to help with chores, errands, driving the other children to school, or meals. If you have the means, offer to pay for some grief counseling, or put the family who is grieving in touch with a compassionate minister that you trust.

Don’t use the ‘opportunity’ of grief for evangelism.  Say as little as possible and do as much as necessary. This is a time to serve the grieving. If you want to talk to them about their relationship with God, do that later.

Don’t say ‘I understand how you feel’. You don’t. Even if you’ve gone through the exact same thing in the past, your wounds are not fresh.

If they ask ‘why did this happen?’ don’t start getting all theological on them. The answer to that question is ‘I don’t know’, because you don’t. I know you want to answer this question to be helpful, but by taking a stab at it in ignorance, you can only make things worse. There is an old gospel standard that says, “Farther along we'll know all about it, farther along we'll understand why…”

You’re not there to provide answers, so take that pressure off of yourself.

Say as little as possible. Listen. Embrace. Cry. Serve. Love.


Comments 41 comments

mike hadley 7 years ago

great words of wisdom, very well said, thanks

Jessie Deakin 7 years ago

Awesome, very helpful. You touch on all the things that we have either done or said that just don't cut it in a grieving time. Thank you, Stan

KCC Big Country profile image

KCC Big Country 7 years ago from Central Texas

Great advice. Having lost a young son and my father, I can tell you that people can be their stupidest at times of grief. I stopped answering the phone and the door just to shut them up.

ladyjane1 profile image

ladyjane1 7 years ago from Texas

Hello Stan great advice. I remember when I lost my father in 1992 someone at work said the stupidest thing to me, unintentional I am sure but she said,"don't cry for your father, he is in a better place". Needless to say I went off on her and said yea but he is not here now and for the rest of my life I will not see my father again, will never see him laugh and he will never talk to me again as long as I live and that is why I am crying so shut the hell up. I know I shouldn't have said that but I was in a deep depression when he died. Thanks for that advice, at least I know what not to say in this situation.

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Stan Fletcher 7 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Thanks for the input Ladyjane. This has been my most popular hub. I would have never imagined that when I wrote it. Your well-meaning friend was doing what most try to do - say something helpful. I could have condensed this hub to 4 words - keep yur trap shut.

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

Good counsel again.

That's what I say 7 years ago

Perfectly said!

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 7 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Thanks TWIS and RT. I appreciate you stopping by.

MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Beautifully said Stan, having attended a funeral today (my Aunt) I did a lot of hugging and crying with my cousins, we didn't need words. Death is a part of life and we all grieve in our own way, so let it be and let the person heal.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

MPG - so sorry to hear of your loss. I hope this hub helped you in some way. Thanks so much for reading.

AEvans profile image

AEvans 6 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

Well put! Grieving is so hard and sometimes we heal through words that we write, when we lost our stepdad I was devastated but God managed to get me through it one day at a time. My mom is fighting for her life and I am trying to get through that to but my faith helps me endure all the doors that I have to walk through just to see the sunshine. Another great hub, keep up the great work! :)

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

AEvans - thanks so much for the great comment. As you could robably tell, I was a little angry when I wrote this. A young girl had passed away in my hometown in a car wreck and I witnessed too many of the things I mentioned in the post. People mean well, but need to say less - much less. Listening is a skill that we all need to work on. The old 'two ears and one mouth' thing.

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 6 years ago

Grief. I have written hubs about losing my hubby and mom.

Through all the losses I've endured, people said to me I'm so sorry. When you go through it, you don't really hear the words. It all blends into a cacophony of noise. However, you don't realize till time passes is that all the I'm sorrys actually helped. It got you through.

All loss is painful, but for me, even the thought of losing a child somehow seems so much more painful to bear. I marvel at how parents cope. Sadly, some don't.

I do find myself at a loss for words for others who have lost a loved one. 99% of the time I simply say I'm sorry. For me, there are simply no other things to say. If I give any thought to saying something like, he/she is in a better place, no! they are not, not to the grieving person in front of you. So, I'm sorry says nothing, yet everything.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Trish - your comment gives this hub more credibility. And yes, losing a child would be the worst. Unbearable I would imagine. I'm always amazed at people who have experienced this and managed to keep going. Thanks so much for stopping by.

trish1048 profile image

trish1048 6 years ago

Thank you, Stan.

I just watched a show where the parents lost their daughter to domestic violence. To add insult to injury, less than a year later they lost their son to a head-on car collision. Both children had children, so their parents took in the grandchildren. This woman went out in her community to speak of the dangers of domestic violence and drunk driving. Somehow she and her remaining family turned their grief into a positive. They speak volumes for humanity by reaching out to help others who have suffered losses.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Trish - I hope that I could be one of those kind of people under those circumstances....

Lifeallstar1 profile image

Lifeallstar1 6 years ago

Stan, Thanks for writing this. A lot of times the person that wants to say something when you go to a funeral or wake, doesn't know what to say and just feels so awkward, then blurts out something stupid. The best thing to say is, "I'm sorry" or "I'm so sorry for your loss." But to go preaching is so out of line. I'm actually going to a funeral tomorrow and it makes me uncomfortable because I feel so badly for the family plus it was a good friend. Like you said, there is nothing I can say to make it better. I think just going and saying that "I am sorry" is the best thing I can do. I can't turn back the clock, I can't make anyone's pain go away but I can show that I care by being there. This article will help those people that say too much, hopefully. In my case, it's a 22 year old that died suddenly. Which just sucks. It's a time where no one feels good but I can't fathom how his parents and brother are feeling. So, I hope no one says anything stupid to them. It's just such a horrible feeling, so "I'm sorry" is about the only words I will be able to get out, and I hope the family knows that I'm truly sorry, even though it doesn't sound like much but I just do not know what else to say. I'm honestly just so upset that this happened but there are no words to take away the intense pain which everyone is feeling, especially the immediate family. --Jess

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Jess - Thanks for the great comment. Sorry about the loss of your friend. It's especially hard when someone who has the rest of their life ahead of them passes away. I'm sure you will do the right thing and be as supportive as you can. "I'm sorry" is the only thing that really works. And showing them support in tangible ways. Thanks again for stopping by....

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

I'm discovering that Stan Fletcher has more facets than the funny one as I go along reading your hubs. This one was very wise. This is also the first time I've read (or recall reading) that you are a former pastor. (Is that in your profile?) You are a man of many talents, Stan, whether writing about something serious in a manner which can be helpful or making us laugh until our sides hurt. Thanks, and I'll keep reading. JAYE

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Hey Jaye,

That was a really nice comment. I really appreciate you taking the time to say what you said. Means a lot to me.

seebasic profile image

seebasic 6 years ago from Germany

Can only say, a good article

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Seebasic - thanks so much. I read your profile. Anxious to read about PH balance, as I believe it's one of the primary causes of cancer.... (too acidic) Thanks again for stopping by.

Terry 6 years ago

I think there are stages most go through when facing a death of a close one, especially when they do not have a religious faith to lean on. I personally went through dis-belief that it happened, Paranoia that the whole event was a setup, then deep anger, then the blame game - mostly blaming myself, then came the deep missing the person, like she will not be on the Earth again. It was unmeasurable the loss. Taking away from any of these feelings would have meant that I didn't love her, to me. And even though she was gone, it was expected of me to feel this way, so I thought... Anyways your comments were "SPOT ON". I want to take away someone else's pain that is going through the process, but you simply cannot do it for them.

demon dog 6 years ago

sorry for the loss in ur life brother. I could def read a bit of anger in this one.

Karen Cowell Starkey 6 years ago

I know this is an older hub, but the reposting of it couldn't have come at a better time for me. I lost my grandmother yesterday. This hub should be required reading for everyone.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Terry - thanks for the great comment. I agree with everything you said.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Demon - this was written in response to a young girl who died in a car wreck in Gruver about a year ago or so. I heard some really damaging crap when some of her family showed up to comfort the rest of the family. It wasn't 'my loss' per se. The anger you detected comes from the fact that people can be so incredibly insensitive. Most mean well, but some people just like to hear themselves talk at a time when they need to zip it.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 6 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

karen - so sorry to hear of your loss. I'm a little confused as to how this got 'reposted'. I didn't do it. Perhaps someone else did. I got three comments on the same day, which I found odd for such an old post. Again, so sorry for your loss.

AngRose profile image

AngRose 5 years ago

I realize this is an older hub of yours Stan, but the title caught my eye. I lost my uncle recently. He was also my Godfather, and helped raise me after my father left. Your words could not be any truer. No matter what people say, nothing really helps. I watched people try to "comfort" my aunt with their words, and most simply either made her sadder, or enraged her. Why do people feel it necessary to tell a woman who has lost her husband of 56 years that she will be lonely now that he's gone? Do they think she's an idiot and can't figure this out herself?? Anyway, I just wanted to say I agreed with your hub 100% and hopefully some will take your great advice and simply help, and remain quiet when they find themselves in this situation in the future. Angie

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Angie - first, sorry to hear of your loss. Second, sorry to hear that your aunt had to endure anything that I addressed here in the hub. People mean well (usually) and assume they need to say something. Often they stick their foot in their mouth. Also, people want to be an authority on grief it seems. Like the person who told your aunt she would be lonely was probably speaking from experience, but they were making it about them instead of your aunt. It's not really a good time to communicate ANYTHING except "I'm sorry". And then get busy doing what needs done. Thanks for your great comment and thank you for reading.

kostas 5 years ago

To be honest, Whenever I have to be present at a funeral. I am becoming cynical without any guilt whatsoever. You can guess why. I am not going to write what I feel about death right now.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Kostas - I just want to make sure you're getting the help you need from professionals who can work through some of this stuff with you.

alexandros 5 years ago

I don't think we should do anything. We simply have to be there for them. I mean, Even if we could provide an accurate answer to why this is happening. It would not help. Not while they grieve at least.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

alexandros - my point exactly....thanks for stopping by.

vocalcoach profile image

vocalcoach 5 years ago from Nashville Tn.

Stan - It's too bad people cannot read your hub on grieving. I am still trying to process and live without my son who passed on from cancer, 3 yrs ago. It hurts as much now as it did then. Your words, "Don’t use the ‘opportunity’ of grief for evangelism. Say as little as possible and do as much as necessary. This is a time to serve the grieving. If you want to talk to them about their relationship with God, do that later.", should be posted before everyone because this is the mistake most people make...trust me when I say, not only does it not help, it provokes and angers the person grieving. You're an amazing person. And you are a gift to me!

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Vocalcoach - that's one of the kindest things anyone has ever said to me. I admire your ability to carry on more than I can say. I have a son and a daughter and can't imagine the pain of losing them. Thank you for taking the time to send me your thoughts. God bless you.

sugarmama 5 years ago

what do i do im not even grieving for my dad itw like its another day... My dad was abusive .. Am i wrong for not crying.. It seems llike careless.

Motown2Chitown 5 years ago

As usual, Stan, this is flat out AWESOME. I initiated a conversation with my husband tonight about platitudes and how frustrating I find them. I have been through three major losses in my lifetime, and have heard some really stupid crap from people in very well meaning attempts to comfort me. NOTHING helped more than the silent presence of a friend or loved one who simply held my hand, put their arms around me, or simply listened to me scream and rail and rant and rave until I'd exhausted myself doing so. Words don't help in the beginning. PRESENCE does. I was in the convent when my mother died. I called my spiritual director, who simply said - Do you need me to come over? I said yes. He came. We sat. We drank tea. I cried. He held my hands. After an hour, he hugged me and left. It was the most powerful thing anyone could have done for me, and nary a word was spoken. He did offer me words of consolation later in my grieving process, but in the beginning, he was wise enough to simply offer the presence of one who loved me. That was enough.

As always, a beautiful hub. You are a wise man, Stan Fletcher. I'm honored to know you.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Sugarmama - thanks for dropping by. Don't be hard on yourself for how you feel. Your dad did some things that were very hurtful and that were not your fault. The thing you need to work on now is letting go of your past. Otherwise, it will negatively impact your future. You may need to find a counselor, priest, rabbi, pastor, or good friend to talk through these things with....Don't let them eat you up inside. I wish you well. If there is anything else I can do, send me an email on the link above.

Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN Author

Motown - thanks for the kind words. Your spiritual director's example is exactly what I was trying to say here. People want to say more when they should say less. We're so uncomfortable with the concept of death, that we don't know what to do when it happens. I wish we could see death for what it is - a common experience and a defining moment in each of our lives.

Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

This is a truly useful hub. Why are people such idiots when it comet to thing like this? Comments like "at least she's not in pain" and "it's all part of God's plan" are SO inappropriate and unhelpful.

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