Being someone’s cornerstone as they are grieving is one of the biggest roles you can ever play. And whether they’ve recently suffered a loss, or it’s been decades, there isn’t one definitive way to cope. The best we can do is be there to console and offer encouragement, but sometimes even the most well-intentioned words can come out the wrong way. Below, five things not to say to someone who’s grieving and five they’d probably love to hear.
1. “You’re going to grow from this.”
We get that “diamonds are forged in fire,” but saying this to someone who just lost a loved one can come off as dismissive. It implies that they should look past their heartbreaking loss and find a silver lining. And while there’s some value to that sentiment, saying it when the emotions are raw is a bad move.
2. “At least they lived a long life.”
Anyone who has ever suffered a loss will tell you that no matter what age the deceased goes, it always feels like you never had enough time with them. So, if someone is mourning their grandparent, for example, avoid uttering this statement because regardless of age, the loss might still feel colossal. They’re probably consumed by not only all the great memories they shared with their grandma, but all the memories to come she won’t be there for.
3. “When it’s their time to go, it’s their time.”
Often, when people pass, their survivors are guilt-ridden with thoughts that perhaps they could’ve done something to prevent the death. “I should’ve checked in more,” “I should have known that something was off,” are common sentiments. And to console them with a lesson about fate may feel necessary in the moment, but it also can imply that the survivor should look past their feelings because there was nothing they could’ve done anyways.
4. “You have to stay strong for your children, spouse etc.”
This statement is not even pretending. It’s downright letting the person who’s grieving know that there’s no room for them to fall apart because there are other family members processing the loss as well. It may be true in cases where kids are involved, but a kinder suggestion is to allow the adults to walk through the grieving process with their kids, instead of repressing their own feelings.
5. “Stay busy so you don’t think about it too much.”
Again, there’s value to this piece of advice, but it’s really important to get the timing and tone right. Expecting your sister to get back into the swing of things six months after the death of her hubby is unrealistic. Grief comes with a boat load of ups and downs, so on days when she’s handling her business well, let her know you’re proud. And on days when she can’t get anything done, let her know you’re there to help her get back on her feet.
5 Things Someone Grieving Would Love to Hear
1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Simple and straightforward, this tried-and-true statement works so well because it gets right to the heart of the matter. It acknowledges that the recipient is going through a tough time and expresses your heartfelt sympathy for their situation.
2. “How are you holding up?”
When your friend is dealing with a death, it’s easy for them to get caught up in the logistics that follow—planning a funeral, selling assets, etc. Simply asking how they’re doing shows them that you’re still there and is a reminder that there’s someone who still cares. When they’re the remaining caretakers for their families, it also gives them the opportunity to let out some of their pent-up emotions.
3. “I’m here for you if you need anything.”
For the most part, when people suffer a loss, they need to know that they still have a village to lean on. It’s not necessarily about what you say, but also how you can help in moments they feel overwhelmed. If you have the bandwidth to make dinner some nights or do their laundry, feel free to let them know so they don’t hesitate to call when they’re in need.
4. “I know much you cared about them.”
With grief comes a ton of guilt, and sometimes people need to be reminded that they did the best they could for their loved ones. In those moments where someone feels like they could’ve done more to help their ailing aunt, point out all the things they did correctly that showed that they cared. It may help, even if it’s just for a moment.
5. “I wish I had the right words for you.”
In addition to guilt, grief also comes with a lot of anger, denial and depression. When someone you care about is in the throes of sorrow, they may rant about something the deceased did (or didn’t do) or something that was said at the wake—let them. Instead of trying to “fix” the situation or offer a new perspective, “I wish I had the right words for you,” validates their emotions and can encourage them to continue venting.