What Not To Say When Someone Is Grieving.

What Not To Say When Someone Is Grieving.

A lot of people are in emotional and psychological pain right now.  Many people are mourning the loss of their jobs or perhaps their career.  Some have lost businesses that have been built over decades and countless others are deeply affected by the fear of what will happen next.  Then there are the people who have lost loved ones. 

Whichever is the case, all feelings of loss are valid and while it may be for good reasons that we try to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can never truly know how those shoes fit.  We must keep this in mind if we are looking to support someone who is grieving.

I would like to share some tips from a PBS blog post by the bereavement expert, Camile B. Wortman, Ph.D, that may help to guide us as we support those who have experienced loss in these difficult times.

Dr. Wortman indicates that these are some actual examples of what not to say that were provided by bereaved individuals:

Offering Platitudes

  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “You have so much to be thankful for.”
  • “It’s time for you to move on.”

Minimizing the Problem

  • “It was only a baby you didn’t know.”
  • “You can always have another one.”
  • “You had many good years together.”
  • “At least he’s not a vegetable.”
  • “At least he didn’t suffer.”

Giving Unsolicited Advice

  • “Now that your husband is gone, you should consider getting a dog.  They’re wonderful companions.”
  • “You should not be going out to the cemetery every day.”

Providing a Religious or Philosophical Perspective

  • “God needed him more than you did.”
  • “She’s a flower in God’s Garden.”
  • “He’s in a better place now.”

Claiming to Know How the Bereaved Person Feels

  • “I know how you feel about the death of your husband.  My husband and I got a divorce last year and it has been very hard.”
  • “On the same day that my wife died, her cousin told me that she knew how I felt because her dog had died after a long illness.”

These were actual comments made by people trying to be supportive but as you can probably tell, they missed their intended purpose.

Dr. Wortman continues, “These kinds of remarks often seem to trivialize or dismiss the mourner’s problems.  Ironically, such comments are more likely to be made by relatives and close friends than by strangers or casual acquaintances.”

What can you say and do to help?

  • Just shut up and listen – provide support by listening without interrupting and providing unsolicited advice.
  • Validate Feelings – Encourage them to share what they are feeling in a nonjudgmental, accepting way. 
  • Presence – Just be there.  (Even in this difficult time when you may not be physically present, stay attached and in touch by other methods.)
  • Take the Initiative – once the original shock has passed, take the initiative to reach out.  A bereaved person is unlikely to call you.  Bereaved people lack motivation and may not have the energy to handle even the most basic tasks of daily life let alone call you for support.
  • Dig deeper – If the mourner says that they are fine, dig a little deeper if you are close to them.  Ask them, “No, I mean how are you really doing?”
  • Stay the course – many support providers drop out of the picture right after the funeral is over.  True support will be needed for weeks and months later.  Keep in mind vulnerable times like weekends, anniversary of the death, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or birthdays.

Dr. Wortman’s blog post focused on the loss of a loved one but keep in mind that some of these tips can translate to other losses and no loss should be trivialized. 

I hope that these tips can help you as they have helped me.

Take care!