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7 things NOT to say to a grieving person

Updated on September 22, 2016

Don't take away my grief.

I have recently lost a parent. A part of my heart that I don't think I will ever get back. I lost myself. A big chunk of who I am am died with my mother. Every part of my body aches for her. I don't know If I will every truly recover the "me" that existed before my mother died.

Perhaps in time I will sweep up the fragments of who I was and try to stitch together someone that resembles a shadow of who I used to be, but I suspect not for a very long time.

During this time of mourning well intentioned family and friends and have flocked to my side to offer condolences or words of advice. Unfortunately, well intentioned often leads to the wrong things being said that can seem cold and cruel.

1. You have to "be strong" "have courage"

Well intentioned people, family, friends, acquaintances will naturally want to make a grieving person feel better and will most likely offer unsolicited advice. One of the worst pieces of advice I have ever gotten was, and still get, is to "be strong." This advice is seriously unhelpful for two reasons.

  1. Being strong after the death of a loved one is not easy. It's not as if you can click your fingers and voila you are covered with an armour of strength and courage. It doesn't work that way - if it did their would be a lot less pain in the world.
  2. When people constantly tell you to "be strong" it makes you feel like you are somehow grieving the wrong way, that maybe you missed out on the grief protocol that we are supposed to abide by, essentially you feel like you are being a failure at grieving.

Alternatively say something to the effect that no words can lessen the pain or change things but just let the grieving person know that you are there if they need anything.

2. This is for the best

"This is for the best" is an absolute doozy to tell someone. Imagine that someone has just lost their wife, husband or parent and is feeling utter loss and someone tells them that this is for the best. No matter the circumstances surrounding the death "this is for the best" brings no comfort. Zero.

Alternatively say I am really sorry that this happened to you and your family.

3. You have to be strong for your kids, your other parent, your siblings

So often when someone dies, other people remind them that they need to be strong for the other family members, their remaining parent, their kids and so forth. The problem with this statement is it once again makes the grieving person feel like s*** and that they have let their family down. It's extremely difficult to be strong for others when you yourself are drowning in grief. It's just like adding another layer of hurt upon a very fragile person.

Alternatively say nothing in regards to the grief. You don't have to address how a person is grieving to be honest but if you see them crying or upset you can let them know that it's okay for them to cry, scream, get angry. It's okay for them to grieve in their own way.

4. How are you doing?

Why on earth would anyone ask a grieving person how they are doing? I mean seriously? Do you want a real answer which could very well be I want to crawl up into the foetal position and hide from the rest of the world until it's my time to join my dearly departed.

Alternatively say I know this is a really tough time for you. If you need anything, no matter how small, just ask.

5. Let me know if I can help

This one is a bit tricky because offering to help is great but also vague.

Alternatively try to offer some suggestions such as asking if any calls need to be made, do they need some groceries, errands taken care of, do the kids need minding. The key is to offer a specific suggestion but also leave the offer open to anything else they made need doing.

6. They are in a better place now

"They are in a better place" is well intentioned but can also minimise the grief their loved ones are feeling in a way. When a person is in the eye of the immense grief those words have no solace they only want their loved ones with them here and now.

7. Everything happens for a reason, this is part of God's plan

Again, phrases like this just minimises the grief one is experiencing. The grieving person just lost a big chunk of their life and their heart, don't try and justify the loss.

Alternatively say I don't know the right words to say but just know I am thinking of you and your loss. I'm sorry this has happened to you.

Just be available

Grief is utterly personal and their is no right or wrong way to grieve. At the end of the day you don't need to have the right words to say because their are no magic words. Just be their (if that's what they want) and let your grieving friend know that they have your support.

The cold hard truth is that you will never truly get a real perspective about what it is like to loose a parent or a spouse unless it happens to you so don't pretend to understand the grief just be available.


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    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 15 months ago from Sydney

      @Randomscribe - yes I see what you mean. In that case, I think what you have to remember that people aren't saying it was "for the best" that she got ill: they're saying, once she took ill, it was better that she was freed from suffering quickly. Of course you would've preferred to have her with you as long as possible, but would you really have wanted that to be at the expense of her pain? That's what I keep reminding myself.

    • RandomScribe profile image

      RandomScribe 16 months ago

      Denise I agree 100% My mother was my best friend and at 34 years old I still saw her every day. We were extremely close and the grief I am experiencing is so profound I dont know if I will ever feel even a resemblance of who I was.You are right sometimes things are just best left unsaid. I am sorry for your losses.

    • RandomScribe profile image

      RandomScribe 16 months ago

      Yes Marisa I can see how that could be of comfort for sure. In my situation the demise from health to her passing was rather quick. I guess for me when I hear those words I just wish I could have the healthy mum back before she was sick but I totally understand what you are saying completely. Sorry for your loss.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      The closer we are to the person that has deceased, the more profound is our loss and subsequently, our grief. Our family has recently lost a number of members, both young and old, and I agree with your observations here. Some things are better left unsaid. Just having someone be there and put their arms around us, letting us know that we are loved, is one of the kindest things to do when we have lost a loved one.

    • Marisa Wright profile image

      Marisa Wright 16 months ago from Sydney

      Your first two paragraphs blew me away, what a wonderful use of words.

      Having also lost both my parents, I'm not sure I agree with #2. My mother died after years of ill health, culminating in months of horrible suffering. Although I missed her terribly, it was definitely the best thing FOR HER to go. How selfish would it be for me to wish her to stay in that hell just so I could have her around? I did find it helped to be reminded of that occasionally, maybe it wouldn't work for others.