6 Things You Should Never Say to Someone Who’s Lost a Loved One
It brings us absolutely no joy to relay this serious fact of life to you, but here it comes: We all have to deal with death. We experience loss in our own lives and are, in turn, faced with opportunities to help our nearest and dearest navigate the losses they’re forced to weather. Nothing you do or say can erase the pain that comes with death, but we’re confident that you’re doing everything you can to make your grieving friend feel better. You’ve sent cards. You’ve written text messages. You’ve dropped off ice cream. You’re a rock star. But let’s get back to basics. Some of the things you’re most tempted to say during this time of grief — however well-intentioned they may be — could actually prove counterproductive. Scroll down to learn more about the six things you should probably avoid saying to a friend who’s grieving.
1. “They’re in a better place now.” It’s tempting to drop this line after a friend has said goodbye to a loved one after an extended illness. Even if it is a relief that someone you care about is no longer enduring painful physical symptoms, these words aren’t necessarily easy to absorb. Per educator and coach Audrey Holst, they can actually often translate to the grieving person as, “Cheer up! Things aren’t that bad.” And let’s be honest: When death is concerned, it usually feels pretty bad. A positive spin can be helpful, but be mindful that you’re not minimizing the situation with a statement like this one. It’s also worth noting, according to licensed psychotherapist April Neff, that a “better place” comment assumes the bereaved shares your beliefs about what happens when we die, which they may not.
2. “Think about all of the other amazing people you have in your life!” Making gratitude a habit is a worthwhile exercise, but it’s not up to you to lead this process for anyone else, particularly after they’ve experienced a death. Having experienced great loss in her own immediate family, certified grief counselor and author of Refined by Fire Mary Potter Kenyon confirms that this is not something that the newly grieving want to hear.
3. “I know how you feel.” There is, of course, a time and place to swap stories, but the immediate wake of someone else’s tragedy is not it. When you tell your friend that you understand their feelings, it takes the spotlight away from their emotions and makes it harder for them to work through their immediate struggle. “There is then an unspoken shift in the focus of the conversation, and the person in need of sympathy, compassion, advice, or a shoulder to lean on is now being forced to focus on [your] story and how [you] were affected,” explains Carole Brody Fleet, author of Loss Is a Four-Letter Word and When Bad Things Happen to Good Women. “The focus needs to remain on the person who has opened a conversation with news of their loss and is looking for compassion and reassurance. They should not have to be in the position of consoling another.”
4. “Maybe you should try to distract yourself.” In any grieving process, there does come a time when the person affected should try to reestablish their routine and interact with other people again, but it’s not up to you to set that timeline. “Grief is as natural as digestion, and if you stop either one from happening, you’re going to have trouble,” author and licensed psychotherapist Dr. Tina B. Tessina (AKA Dr. Romance) tells us. “If you allow your friend to grieve, their will to live will inevitably assert itself.” Once that focus returns, you can be ready and waiting to distract your BFF with something fun… at their prompting.
5. “OMG, you’re kidding!” Yes, death can come as a surprise sometimes, but no matter how shocked you are, it’s best to bite your tongue if you think there’s any chance of a line like this one slipping out. Career mortician Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone Funeral Services notes that she’s heard many people say this to the grieving. “It is so horrible to be on the receiving end of that,” Fournier says. “So thoughtless.”
6. “There’s a reason for everything.” Feelings about death are often tied closely to spirituality and religion, so the things that you find most reassuring after a death may not be as comforting to others. If you see death as part of a bigger plan, that’s great — but you should be mindful about making assumptions that others believe the same. Also, this “assumes that some power is choosing to have your loved one die, and that you are supposed to be okay with it and find some purpose in their death,” licensed clinical social worker and grief specialist Jill Johnson-Young points out. That can feel like a lot of pressure, even to people whose beliefs have room for positivity around death.
What kinds of things have helped you to hear while grieving? Tweet us @BritandCo.
(Photos via Getty)
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