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What NOT to say When People Are Grieving

Updated on September 10, 2014
GarnetBird profile image

Gloria taught for many years, and also worked as a mental health group facilitator.


By Gloria Siess

Do you know someone who is enduring a terrible loss? Have you been at loss for words, as the cliché goes--unable to intervene in any satisfactory manner? I have recently graduated from a Lutheran Grief Share Support Group, and I have found it invaluable and comforting. One of the hallmarks of the group is giving permission to others to feel pain, to mourn their loss, without judgment. Severe loss can cause numbness, depression and the survivor can often feel alienated by others and even shamed for not "snapping out of it." Here is a list of things people say that can actually cause more misery and frustration to the grieving person.

1. You'll See Him or Her in Heaven. I feel that is true, but the person who has lost a loved one needs immediate comfort, not celestial imagery. Meant to be kind, this remark can sometimes be a bit too religious for the person in pain to receive. Christians grieve with more hope than non-believers, but they feel the same loss.

2. Aren't you over this YET? People grieve at their own pace, and this can drive bystanders crazy. Meant to be a form of tough love, this remark reeks of callousness.

3. Pull yourself together! To grieve and heal, the person must actually fall apart in some sense, and then be put back together. It takes time, tenderness, and often therapy. Avoiding the pain of grief seldom works, as it can ambush the sufferer later in life. Working through it, and feeling it seems to be the only road to healing.

4. Look at the positive side! I have heard this inane remark often, usually when the sufferer is going through sheer hell on earth and the bystander feel secure. Losing a loved one hurts, and even if a diseased leg is being cut off, and you have another leg--well, it is going to be excruciating in the meantime. We have to be sensitive to the process that others are experiencing, and offer support in a practical manner.

5. You are better off without him/her. When someone is abandoned and divorced, the love they felt for that person does not automatically turn off like a valve. Some of us never fully let go of our first love. Words like these, although well-meaning, make the sufferer feel their whole marriage or relationship was a mirage. They do not need to have their choices invalidated at this point. Feeling unloved and shocked by a spouses infidelity and/or abandonment is one of the worst things a human being can go through. They need comfort, not a cheering section.

6. Luckily you have other children left! When a child dies, the pain to the parent is intolerable. If they have other living children, the last thing they need to hear is that another child can make up for the loss. Every child is unique, and leaves a gaping hole in the family circle.

Severe loss usually takes three months to finally accept, and six months for any progress to be made. During this time the survivor of loss will feel numb, often panic-stricken, and in a fog of unreality. Taking them out for coffee, or escorting them on a nature walk will work wonders as it will break the cycle of grief temporarily. Also encourage them to seek professional help. Good medication that enables the sufferer to sleep will be a wonderful blessing--as will anything that keeps them eating and maintaining a normal hormonal balance.


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    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 2 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Thank you so much!!

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I wrote a similar hub. You have some good things to share here. Being in the presence of a person who is grieving a significant loss makes us anxious to relieve their suffering, or to make ourselves more comfortable. Thanks for this very important message.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Gloria, what an excellent no-nonsense article on this subject. When I lost my daughter at the age of 29 due to a Diabetic related disease, I was given all the platitudes you have mentions, and as you say they are not helpful.Indeed though good intentioned they felt patronizing. It would be better just to have given their condolences and left it at that. Excellent read on this subject. Voted up,interesting and very useful.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 3 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Can you find a grief share group at your local church? I am involved with one and it is very healing to find support with others who are grieving. You might have to shop around online to find one that meets your needs. Writing in a journal is great! Keep up the good work.

    • profile image

      Darvin 3 years ago

      Yup, that'll do it. You have my apcinpiatroe.

    • profile image

      Heather 3 years ago

      Thank you for these words on writing about grief. I have been keenipg a journal for several years now, but before I started this I had already lost or thrown out the diaries I kept as a child. My sister died age 7 in 1980, so I would have liked to be able to look back on what I wrote as I was growing up. I recently decided to start writing a book about my journey through her death and my healing journey to the present and I found it hard going! It's still on my to do' list, although, having written only a few pages, has slipped off the top of the pile. If you have any tips for me, I'd appreciate them!

    • profile image

      Debrah 3 years ago

      I feel saiitfsed after reading that one.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 3 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Yes, I have heard that. I really feel for your situation, as my step daughters husband committed suicide several years ago. An insensitive relative said to her, "He's at peace now and no longer taking drugs."

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      As a teenager I was grieving the suicide of a friend and was told by a well meaning teacher that "this too shall pass." It was a horrific, insensitive piece of advice, insensitive and a terrible attempt at trying to comfort a grieving person. I have never forgotten it.

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 3 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Thank you for your encouragement..the people in my Grief Share Group shared their stories, their losses, and often vented on how callously others had treated them. Your comments made my day!!

    • misterhollywood profile image

      John Hollywood 3 years ago from Hollywood, CA

      This was a very insightful and informative hub. Some people say the most ridiculous things to another during a time of grief. I know some folks are trying to be helpful but my goodness - the ignorance people display!

      Thanks for this excellent hub. I will share with others.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      This is one of the best hubs on how to approach a grieving person. So many people, believing that they are being sensitive, can say quite hurtful things. It is best to state that you are offering your sympathy and/or condolences. If it is a friend or family member, let them vent their loss and cry and always be supportive and there for them in this hour of need.