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What To Say To Someone Grieving?

When a person dies, the first steps are usually obvious: you attend the funeral, maybe cook a meal or two for the family, or send flowers. But what about after the funeral? How can you help? You don’t want to constantly remind them of their loss, but you want to show your support. People may mean well, but they may say things that actually end up being hurtful or just unhelpful. Here are some common well-meaning but potentially harmful phrases, and what to say instead:

1. “How are you doing?”

This is such an overused question, and the person being asked this may not know how to respond. Most people are just going to respond with, “Fine,” and not say how they really feel.

What to say instead: “It must be really tough for you right now.”

You don’t want to gloss over or minimize their feelings. Saying this allows the person to feel what they feel without judgment. What they are going through is painful.

2. “They’re in a better place,” or “They’re no longer suffering.”

While this may possibly be true, you shouldn't assume the person grieving is part of a culture or belief system that supports this. It’s better to use caution during such a confusing and personal time. Regardless of the person’s beliefs, the fact is, the person they loved is no longer with them.

What to say instead: “I’m sorry you’re suffering.”

They are probably glad the person they loved is no longer suffering, but that doesn’t lessen their grief. Focus on the person experiencing the pain of loss.

3. “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”

This is a well-meaning offer, but people are likely to be overwhelmed by this non-specific offer.

What to say instead: “I’ll bring a meal,” or “I’ll drive carpool for the next month,” etc.

People are more likely to take you up on an offer if it is specific and will help them out. Just make sure you can follow through on the offer.

4. “I know how you feel.”

Grief is personal. While everyone may experience loss, everyone experiences it differently. You will never truly know how someone is experiencing the pain of loss, and it is not helping anyone to compare experiences.

What to say instead: “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”

This gives the person a chance to express how they feel.

5. “This will happen to all of us eventually.”

Never say this to a grieving person. Yes, this is true, but they do not need to be reminded of this in the moment. This phrase minimizes the pain they are feeling.

What to say instead: “You must really miss (name of person)”

Focus on their loss, rather than the inevitability of death.

6. “You’re handling this well,” or “You’re handling this better than I would have.”

Again, don’t compare them to yourself. They may seemingly be handling things well, but they may just be putting on a happy face. You may make them feel like they aren’t grieving properly.

What to say instead: “You may not be feeling great, and that’s ok.”

This gives the person freedom to feel how they want. Even if time has passed since their loved one’s death, it’s comforting to acknowledge that each moment without them is tough.

7. “You can always remarry, have another child, etc.”

You may think saying this helps them find a silver lining, but you’re really saying that their loved one is replaceable. This only plays on their fears that they’ll forget their loved one as time goes on.

What to say instead: “Tell me about your loved one.”

It can be hard to look to the future when you’re experiencing grief. Focus on the moment by asking them to tell you about their loved one and be an active listener while they tell their stories.


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