What Are Unhelpful Phrases When Grieving?

what not to say to grieving people
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People often say unhelpful things to the grieving after the death of a loved one.

Chances are you have experienced the death of a loved one.

In the U.S. alone, about 7,500 people die daily.

The pain from the death of a close friend or family member is raw and real, even if expected.

According to a recent Considerable article titled “The 5 worst things to say after someone dies,” well meaning people often say unhelpful things as we grieve.

People are often unhelpful when their friends are grieving.
Many seemingly kind words are unhelpful after the death of a loved one.

If you have ever been on the unfortunate receiving end of this scenario, then you likely still recall the words said.

If you have not yet experienced the death of a loved one and someone you know is mourning a deep personal loss, think twice before you say these following phrases to your friend.

“You’re so strong.”

Although this may sound like an encouragement, it can often feel both shaming and insensitive to the grieving person.

On the outside, they may be functioning because they have been busy settling the estate of their loved one and arranging the funeral.

Try instead to acknowledge their pain with your words by saying something like “I can see you are hurting. This is really hard” or “I miss them, too.”

Empathetic responses both acknowledge the hurt and give permission to grieve.

“At least she isn’t suffering anymore.”

No matter how much you try to sugarcoat it, death is painful for those left behind.

Trying to fix the pain by trying to find a silver lining is unhelpful.

Instead, you may simply need to sit with your friend and watch them hurt.

Starting a phrase with “at least,” feels like it minimizes the value of the person who died.

Instead, simply be present for your friend.

“Call me if you need anything.”

Giving your friend an open invitation can feel like a kind thing to do.

Although the motivation is to be a source of support, it is unhelpful because it leaves the burden of action in the hands of the mourner.

Instead of being vague, offer practical help such as running errands or taking your friend to lunch.

“How are you?”

This question is used so often as a simple greeting in our culture that a superficial response is expected, almost like a knee-jerk reaction.

By providing a more specific prompt like “how are you feeling today?”, your friend is given the opportunity to be specific, reflective, and open.

“It’s been a year already.”

Bringing up the timeline since the loved one’s death is particularly unhelpful because it insinuates grief has an acceptable timeline.

Acknowledge that your friend or loved one may still be experiencing the pain for the loss months and years later.

Special dates, like anniversaries or birthdays, can be acknowledged and honored through a note, phone call, or celebration.

If you are at a loss for what might be unhelpful to say, err on the side of being quiet and being present.

Reference: Considerable (July 8, 2020) “The 5 worst things to say after someone dies”

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