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Things to Avoid Saying to the Bereaved

Category: 

Bereavement Relief

Posted On: Apr 25, 2016

Things to Avoid Saying to the Bereaved

We all deal with grief from the loss of a loved one in very personal ways. This is one of the many reasons that it can be difficult to find the right thing to say to someone when they have lost a person who was very near and dear to them. You want to find the perfect thing to say to comfort someone, but you might find yourself at a loss for words. Many times people in this position find that they put their foot in their mouth and say something awkward even when they have the very best intentions. If you are going to be meeting with someone soon who is grieving, take a look at these few comments that you might want to consider avoiding.

“I understand what you’re going through.” It’s a kind gesture to want to empathize with someone dealing with a difficult situation. And it might even be very true that you know all too well what it’s like to lose someone close to you. But unless you know the person very well, you probably want to avoid saying that you understand their feelings. Everyone processes grief differently, and some people might find it presumptive and off-putting that you assume to know how they feel, even if you’re just trying to lend some support.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” Just like the last comment, this puts the focus on you instead of the griever. While you don’t want to assume that you know how someone feels, you don’t want to tell that person that they are alone in their feelings, either, which is exactly what this phrase says.

“He / she is in a better place.” If you are unsure of the person’s religious beliefs, this is definitely something to avoid. If the person doesn’t believe in the afterlife, this isn’t of any comfort to them. But even if the person is religious and believes in life after death, it’s quite possible they may be wondering where their loved one may have ended up—you just can’t know for sure. But even in the best case scenario–where the grieving person is certain their loved one ended up in heaven–that is only a small comfort to ease the pain of that person being gone.

“You need to be strong.” Many people will say this to people who have children or other loved ones who are grieving along with them. This is unhelpful for two reasons. First, it makes it sound as if grief is a weakness. It is not. Grieving is healing—it makes you stronger in the end. Secondly—and this is especially true in cases when one parent is left after the loss of another parent—you don’t need to be strong for anyone else. You need to deal with your feelings. Other people who are grieving, especially children, will pick up on this and learn that it is acceptable to be sad when you have lost someone whom you love.

So what should you say to the bereaved? Most often, a hand on the shoulder and an “I’m very sorry” is all you need to start. Then just listen.