What Not to Say to Someone Grieving

What Not to Say to Someone Grieving

by Molly, selected from DivineCaroline

If you have had the experience of losing a loved one in your  lifetime, you  understand that the mourning process can be so agonizing  and prolonged that it  feels as if it will never end. Sometimes it’s so  excruciating, in fact, that  even when we aren’t grieving firsthand and  are simply trying to help a person we know heal following the death of someone  important to him or her, we panic,  unsure of what words of reassurance can  possibly suffice in the face of  such monumental loss and emotional trauma.

According to bereavement expert Camille Wortman, PhD, blogging for the PBS  series This Emotional Life,our  personal discomfort  surrounding death and tragedy, whether conscious or  unconscious, often rears  its head when we try to reach out to grieving people,  even if we have the best of intentions.  She notes, “We are not sure  what to say and we do not want to make [the person]  feel even worse.  Conversing with a grieving person can evoke feelings of  helplessness  because objectively, there is little we can say or do to help.  Such  interactions may also enhance feelings of vulnerability, because they   make us realize that bad things can happen at any time.”

In addition, Wortman points out, as we sense our own stress levels increasing while we try to soothe someone who  is suffering, we freeze  up and tend to default to a one-size-fits-all approach,  making “remarks  that are part of our cultural understanding of how to help  others.” Yet  such statements are risky at best and downright damaging at worst.  When  attempting to console a bereaved person, you’d be wise to avoid the   following types of behaviors.

Offering Platitudes “Time heals all wounds.” “You  have so much to be thankful for.” “It wasn’t meant to be.” “This is  simply nature’s way of dealing with a problem.” “Everything happens for a  reason.”

Minimizing the Problem “It was only a baby you didn’t  know; you can always have other children.” “She was seventy-five, so she  lived a nice long life.” “It’s over now. There’s nothing to do but move  on.” “Others are worse off than you.”

Giving Unsolicited Advice “You should seriously consider  getting a dog to keep you company now that your husband is gone.” “It’s not  healthy for you to be visiting your mother’s grave every day.” “The best way  for you to get over your wife’s death is to start dating new people as soon as  possible.”

Grasping at Straws in an Attempt to Relate “I know how  you feel about your son’s passing. My husband and I got divorced last year, and  I’ve had a very hard time with it.” “I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s  untimely death. I  understand what you’re going through, because I had to put my  dog to  sleep recently.” “I know how hard it must have been to lose your  five-year-old. I experienced a similar tragedy when I had an abortion.”

Putting a Religious Spin on the Situation “God has a  plan.” “God doesn’t give you any more than you can handle.” “God needed  your father more than you did.” “She’s a flower in God’s garden now.” “Heaven needed another angel.”

Expressing Intolerance for the Length of the Grieving  Process “Think positive.” “You must be strong.” “Keep a  stiff upper lip.” “Pull yourself together.” “Get back on the horse.”

These verbal red flags might make you feel as if trying to  console someone  who’s lost a loved one is akin to stepping into a  minefield, but bear in mind  that saying nothing at all is still more  harmful. Treat this as an opportunity  to practice mindful  compassion—instead of blurting out clichés, make  sympathetic and  selfless comments, such as:

“I’m so sorry to hear about your loss.” “I can’t imagine what you are  going through.” “I don’t know exactly what to say, but I know I can  listen.” “Would you like to sit down and tell me how you’re really  feeling?”

Above all, don’t forget to ask what you can do to help. Whether  that means  sitting quietly with a grieving friend while she cries,  asking people to  prepare food for her for a few weeks, or researching  support groups for her to  attend, know that you do have the power to  provide genuine comfort.