Some people respond to grief inappropriately because they lack empathy. But it’s more common for people to believe that they are offering words of comfort or helping in some way.
I’ve heard many unhelpful statements said (some of which are listed below) – if not to me during my grief and loss, then through my professional capacity as a Grief and Loss Coach.
Whether ill-intended or not, the fact is, these comments are mostly judgemental and controlling. They are made in an attempt to minimise and ‘fix’ grief rather than accept it for what it is.
I’ve even said a couple of these statements to others, in my pre-loss ignorance, thinking it would make them feel better. How many of these resonate with you?
1. The “Bright Side” Statements. People turn to these types of comments in an effort to ‘cheer you up’ and avoid dealing with the emotional aspects of grief.
You’re young; you’ll find someone else.
You’ll bounce back.
He / She is in a better place now.
Everything happens for a reason.
You can still have another child.
He / she was such a good person God wanted him / her to be with him.
Heaven needed another angel.
Others have it worse than you.
He / she wouldn’t want you to be sad.
2. The Unfiltered Statements. Honesty gone wrong or an attempt at offering ’advice’.
I could never handle what you are going through.
I don’t know how you do it.
I would do this….
3. The Excuse-Based Statements. Simply made to make themselves feel better about their actions and choices.
I didn’t call because I figured you wanted to be alone.
I didn’t visit because I hate hospitals. I don’t do hospitals.
4. The Denial-Based Statements. Similar to the “bright-side”, people often find it difficult to acknowledge grief and loss. This way they can pretend there’s nothing to deal with.
Be strong / Stay strong.
Do you feel better yet?
You need to put this behind you.
5. The Clueless Statements. Ignorance is bliss, eh? I’m not even sure why people say things like this.
This wouldn’t have happened if…
He / she bought this on themselves.
It was just his / her time to go.
It was not meant to be.
Why are you still crying?
You don’t want to let the children see you like this.
God will never give you more than you can handle.
You never knew them that well / got to know them.
6. The Assumption-Based Statements. Purely based on people’s judgements and perception of the situation.
I know exactly how you feel.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Did he smoke? Was she overweight?
Isn’t it time to move on?
I don’t think it’s healthy to visit the grave so often.
I thought you’d be more upset.
7. The “At Least” Statements. Similar to looking on the “bright-side”, with a twist of forcing you to be positive.
At least he / she isn’t suffering.
At least you have other children.
At least you still have your mum / dad.
At least she didn’t die of..…
At least now you can have your own life.
At least he / she lived a long life.
At least the other twin survived.
At least you got to say goodbye.
The following responses are more helpful because they are not judgmental or controlling. No one can take the grief away; these comments are supportive and do not try to fix the unfixable. They do not tell the griever what to think, do, or feel. At some point, we will all be in this situation. Think about what you would want someone to say to you.
I’m so sorry for your loss.
I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can.
You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
My favourite memory of your loved one is…
I am always just a phone call away.
We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.
I am usually up early or late, if you need anything.
I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in whatever way you need me.
I’m sorry you have to go through this.
Let’s go have some coffee.
I’m bringing dinner over.
I didn’t know your loved one, but based on who you are, he / she must have been (insert adjective).
I know how much you loved him / her.
I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to listen if you need me.
I’m so sorry – yes I listed this one twice because it’s the most simple and effective.
I remember after my losses being surrounded with people offering their words of comfort and checking in with me. This soon dissipated after the funeral. I’ve always felt that for those around us the funeral offers a sense of closure, whilst in reality for the griever, it’s just the beginning.
Often after a month or two, when others have fully returned to their normality, the griever can feel alone and even abandoned – I know I did. So stay in touch. Simply ask them how they are doing and listen to what they have to say. Use the loved one’s name when talking and even tell funny stories or share memories about them. There is no magic wand that can take away the pain of grief. The best any of us can do is to be there and be supportive.
No Need for Words.
Finally, if you really care, do something practical to help. Let your actions speak volumes:
Offer a hug in that moment.
Listen when the person needs to talk.
Do the school run.
Reach out during the holidays.
Do the laundry.
Do the shopping.
Talk about the person who died.