What to Say to a Grieving Person: Do’s and Don’ts
Loss has a way of changing people, and its effect can be lasting or fleeting, depending on the individual. As a friend or family member of the grieving person, it is normal to feel somewhat helpless, wanting to do everything in your power to take the suffering away. Instead, focus on being there and consider what to say to a grieving person before speaking.
5 Things You Can Say
People often get caught up in clichés when responding to grief or loss, and it is because we are uncomfortable with pain and thoughts of the fragility of life. If you feel that a hug or your presence is not enough and need to say something, try focusing on one of the following five options.
1. “I am sorry for your loss.”
Saying that you are sorry for someone’s loss is cliché but honest. There is usually no need to say anything else. Focus on the bereaved for cues of further conversation.
2. “I am here for you.”
Letting a loved one know that you are there for them is one of the best things you can do. Many grieving people do not understand what they need or want because they are still in shock. Often they want company or to at least know that a visit is an option.
3. “Do you want to talk about it?”
For some people, talking about the deceased is too difficult, especially in the early stages of loss. Ask them if they want to speak, and respect their answer.
4. “I am going to help in any way I can.”
Because people grieving are in shock, they can find it challenging to function normally. By telling them you will help, you can remove some pressure, especially if you explain what you will help with, grocery shopping, yard maintenance, etc.
5. “Can I tell you a favorite memory with your loved one”
Again, asking permission to reminisce is an excellent idea. Sometimes sharing a happy memory can allow the grieving person to celebrate the life of the deceased.
5 Things You Should Not Say
While there are plenty of things to say to someone grieving the loss of a family member or friend, there are also plenty of things to avoid saying. The five worst things to say are as follows:
1. “It was their time.”
No one wants to hear your opinion about the decedent, even suggesting it was their time. While this way of thinking may help you, it does little for the person experiencing the loss.
2. “God has a plan for everything.”
Even if you and your friend or family member share the same religious beliefs, avoid telling them that the loss of their loved one was God’s plan. You can inadvertently create a chasm between them and their religion, or between you and them.
3. “Stay strong.”
While the sentiment seems harmless enough, stay strong suggest there is something wrong with showing emotion. Your loved one needs to grieve in the way that suits them, which often involves crying and breaking down.
4. “I understand.”
Everyone experiences loss differently; no death is precisely the same. While you may have experienced a personal loss that seems comparable, please do not assume that your feelings are equivalent. Let your loved one experience their loss, and only offer support, not shared insight.
5. “They’re in a better place.”
No matter how well-intentioned you are, saying that someone is in a better place after they die is likely to be met with frustration and avoidance. The only “better place” is alive and with your loved one. Eventually, they may share your opinion, but it likely will not happen immediately.
Grief is a delicate emotion. We recommend being mindful of a loved one’s loss and being careful of your statements. Focus on grief support by showing compassion and being sympathetic rather than expressing platitudes.