What Not To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

Comments To Avoid When Comforting The Grieving

Please Note: These suggestions are especially important for when people are most raw and vulnerable and their grief and loss are new.

"I know how you feel"

One can never know how another may feel. You may have a similar loss but it does not relate to the uniqueness of the individual relationship. An example...two people may have both lost their mothers, but one had a good relationship, the other an abusive relationship...they will feel very differently about losing their mother.  Also, comparing your dog dying to someone losing their grandmother is not the same at all, even though you may feel it is. Instead of saying you know how they feel, ask your friend to tell you how he or she feels. If you have experienced the same type of loss  (i.e, loss of  a child/parent/spouse) feel free to share some of your feelings/insights. It may make the grieving person feel understood and less alone in their grief, but keep in mind, their approach to their grief may be different than yours. If they start talking, don't change the subject, listen while they share. Commenting is not always necessary. What they want most is to share and be heard.

"Time heals all wounds." 

This isn't true...time just passes... it's the action steps you take while the time is passing that determines how you move forward with healing...  We all know people who many years after a loss, have not made progress in moving forward from their pain...if time alone healed, then everyone would be healed after a certain amount of time had passed and we know that just isn't the case.

"Stop crying; you’re only making it worse.” 

Expressing emotions, even strongly if so inclined, is a natural, normal, and healthy reaction to death and loss. To try to bottle up emotions that you feel for the sake of others, will only cause resentment and prolong a person's grief.

“You should let your emotions out or you’ll feel worse later.” 

It’s also normal for some people to not cry; not showing outward emotions doesn't mean the
person is grieving less. We all grieve differently.                                                                                   

“At least he’s not suffering anymore.” "At least he died happy," "At least it was quick"

These are all remarks that, while true, avoid one simple thing..... they don't address the fact that the person you're talking to is in pain!  Regardless of the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering and must grieve. 

"Be Strong"       

Such statements imply that it’s wrong to feel grief, Grief is the normal and natural response to loss. God created us to grieve. It is necessary to our healing. People need to fully express their grief before they can heal. Telling someone to pull herself together quickly isn't helpful

Everything happens for a reason.                                                                                                          

When you lose someone you love, it’s difficult to agree that his death was part of some grand plan. We have to be careful not to make assumptions, as everyone reacts differently according to their age, gender, personality, culture, value system, past experience with loss and available support, Skip clichés like this and instead give the mourner some space to find their own answers.

“It’s been [six months, one year, etc.]; it’s time to move on.”                                                                

People never "get over", or "move on"  from losing a loved one. You just learn to live with the loss. Our relationship doesn't end just because they are no longer physically present with us. They will always be our parent/spouse/child, etc...We will always love them and our lives will never be the same once we have lost someone we love...things won't go "back to normal."...there is a new normal you now live in...a life without a loved one in it. I use the example of someone who has lost a limb to amputation. You can go on and live a full and productive life after you have learned to adapt to your loss. You physically heal, and get to the point where you no longer have physical pain and learn to cope and function with that part that is missing...but you are always aware that part of you is missing, even though you have healed.  Setting a deadline for mourning is insensitive and does little to help people learn to live through their loss. A person should also understand that grief can rise up on birthdays and holidays and from other reminders.

“God must have wanted or needed her.” 

No mortal can purport to know God’s purpose.                                                                                            

“At least he was old enough to live a full life.”                                                                                         

How old is old “enough?”  Some people think when someone lives to a ripe old age, there’s no cause for grieving when they pass away. But “the mourner is likely thinking, ‘However long I had my loved one wasn't long enough. Gratitude for that long life will come later, but in the beginning, there’s only the agony of loss.                                                                                                                                                    

“Don’t dwell on it.”                                                                                                                                       

It’s normal and natural — as well as helpful — to talk about the person who died. Don't think that if you mention the name of their loved one that you will remind the grieving person of their loss or pain. They are thinking about their loved one constantly whether you mention them or not. Do make a point of using their loved ones name rather than avoiding it. To not mention their name is one of the most painful things for a grieving person. 

"Just let it go",  or "Just let go and let God"                                                                                            

These terms don't apply to death and loss. We can't let go of  the memory of someone whom we have loved. They were part of our lives and we will always carry those memories with us. We can as part of the grieving/healing process, learn to let go of our pain and move forward from it with God's help. We can learn to accept the things we can't change, but grieving must take place before we can do such things. 

 "It's part of God's plan," "It was God's Will

These phrases can make people angry when they have just experienced a loss. Their grief can cause them to see this as something to be angry at God for. These cliches attempt to minimize, or explain a death or loss... and at the moment, they may raise serious questions about God's role in  this event for the griever. Do not presume to offer answers. It's not our place to make a judgment. After a loss when emotions are raw, all many people can see is their pain and not how God is working, or will work  through all that has happened... especially if they do not have a particularly strong faith or if they prayed believing God was going to make everything okay and it didn't happen.

"Look at what you have to be thankful for."                                                                                               

They know they have things to be thankful for. Grieving is a natural response to loss and it it must take place for a person to heal. A person can grieve and still be thankful for all the good things in their life.

"Get on your knees", "Just pray about it" "Just have faith"                                                                          

To grieve does not mean a person does not have faith. Jesus was known as a "man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief." Jesus wept. God says He is near to the brokenhearted and promises to bind their wounds. The Bible says there is a time to weep... and we are to grieve with those who grieve and to comfort others with the same comfort in which we've been given...to say that someone lacks faith because they grieve, is un-scriptural and is damaging. We can and should encourage the grieving to look to God for comfort and strength, but we must say things with compassion...not preaching...a griever's brain is usually, tired, numb, overwhelmed, low on endorphin's and serotonin, which makes their processing diminished and their tolerance threshold diminished as well. Kindness and compassion should be the overwhelming things that you convey to someone who is grieving.

"He's in a better place now."  "They are in heaven now, you shouldn't be sad"                                        

Yes, these things are true. But any parent who has lost a child can tell you that they would like to hold their child now. To enjoy them now, and watch them grow up, now. They know where their child is, but for right now, it’s so hard to be glad about it. When someone who is grieving hears that, they think, ‘a better place for my loved one is here with me, so why should I agree he should be elsewhere?’  Most people will take great comfort knowing that their loved one is in heaven right away...that they are not suffering or in pain ... that their loved ones are so blessed to be with Jesus that if given the chance, they would not want to come back to this world with all of it's troubles, pain and loss... and that they will see their loved one again...the Bible says, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope... but we need to be aware that some people will struggle with this when their loss is new and seemingly unbearable.

You’re still young. You can find another husband/have another child.                                                       

The person is grieving the loss of someone close to them. They don't want to replace him/her with a new love, or consider themselves lucky that they had a long time together, or forget their one child because they have others, or could have more, When a loss is fresh, a person can't focus on the future. They are living moment to moment, trying just trying to cope with their loss. 

"This is behind you now; it's time to get on with your life."                                                                         

The loss of a loved one will "never be behind you"...it's something you just learn to live with and will always carry with you to some extent. Sometimes the grieving are resistant to getting on with their life after a period of time, because they feel this means "forgetting" their loved one, or they might feel guilty for enjoying life while their loved one was not given that same opportunity. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace. Everyone grieves differently and if there are multiple losses at one time, there is more to grieve and adapt to. Also, if a person has not dealt with previous losses, they will be dealing with those at the same time as their current loss. 

Statements that begin with "You should" or "You will."                                                                           

These statements sound too authoritative. Instead you could begin your comments with: "Have you thought about  . . ." or "You might. . ." Don't be judgmental bout the things a grieving person says or does. They may choose to grieve in ways that you wouldn't...and unless you have experienced a similar loss, you really don't know how you would react in the same situation. Decisions a griever makes about things like displaying or removing photos, reliving the death, idealizing the loved one, expressing anger or guilt may appear extreme to you, but these patterns of behavior can be perfectly normal following a person's death.

Don't try to find just the right words that will take away the pain.  Especially when the loss is new, nothing you say (or do) will be able to lessen their pain...the best we can hope for is to be a source of comfort to those who are grieving.  If you don't know what to say, to just be there and say "I don't know what to say... I can't begin to know how you are feeling, but I just want you to know that I love you and I care and I am praying for you." is enough to bring comfort.

Watch three pastors discuss what not to say to people in pain. In this video: Tullian Tchividjian, Paul Tripp, Dave Furman Permalink: http://tgc.org/resources/a/what_not_to_say_to_someone_whos_suffering