The Mighty Logo

What to Say and Not to Say to Someone Who Is Grieving

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

October 9, 2016 is a day I will never forget. It is the day I joined the club no one wants to be a part of: the grief club. My dad passed away that day, and I began the hard journey of grief. I also discovered how wonderful people can be and was amazed by the kindheartedness of people I barely knew. The downside, however, was hearing the quotes, questions and unsolicited advice people would share. It blew me away. I believe it might do some good to offer alternatives that will actually help the situation. Here are my suggestions for the four things not to say to someone who is grieving and three things to say instead.

1. He or she is in a better place./At least he or she isn’t suffering anymore.

Before I experienced a significant loss, I used to say this to people who had lost someone. I apologize to everyone I said this to. At the time, I thought it was a great thing to say, but it’s more complicated than that. I didn’t understand this until I experienced my loss. My dad had stage 4 cancer and heart disease. He was in a lot of pain, and I watched him in pain. When the day came that he did pass, and although I knew he wasn’t in pain anymore, my pain was unbearable. Anytime someone told me, “At least he isn’t suffering anymore,” I felt more pain because he was gone. When a grieving person is told this, it might make them feel more pain, knowing their loved one is somewhere else and not with them anymore.

2. Be grateful for the time you had with him or her.

When someone is in pain over a loss, they likely do not want to be told how to feel. Of course they are grateful for spending time with their loved one. They know this and do not need to be reminded. It can come across as minimizing the grief, even if it is not meant that way.

3. Let me know if you need anything. 

It can be hard to hear this if the grieving person asks for something and the well-meaning friend is nowhere to be found.

4. Are you still depressed? How long has it been and you’re still upset? Shouldn’t you be over it by now?

Everyone has a different timetable. Some people take a month, and some take a year or more. Every loss is different, and everyone grieves differently. Just because it took one person a few months to grieve doesn’t mean it will be the same for a grieving friend. Give the grieving space to go through their process.

What are some things to say instead?

1. What can I do for you?

One of the most memorable things my friend said to me after my loss was, “What can I get you? Do you need any food? I will come over if you want.” This meant more to me than anything else because she was there for me. She asked me what I wanted and was ready to help me in my time of need. Asking the person grieving what you can do for them is one of the kindest things you can do. Furthermore, don’t get offended if they turn you down. They may be in so much pain that they are not ready for visitors. However, they may remember that you asked and see you as a true friend.

2. How are you feeling? (And really listen.)

Sometimes the grieving person just wants to talk and share how they feel. Ask them how they’re feeling and then listen to them. You don’t have to give advice or try to fix anything. Being there and letting them talk can help them.

3. I’m so sorry.

This is different than, “Sorry for your loss” (I believe this can be too generic) or “I know how you feel” (because you might not). This is telling the grieving person, “I am so sorry for what you’re going through. I know there are no words to make it better, so I am going to let you know I care.” This can be a true gift and helps the grieving person know they are not alone.

It’s now been 11 months, and I am doing a lot better with my grief. I feel like I’m moving on for the most part and still feel sad during milestones (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) One thing that helped me get through the grief was the words of some true friends who were there for me. Along the way, I also heard some well-meaning and not-so-great things. When your loved one is grieving, it’s important to know what to say, but also what not to say.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock image by abile

Originally published: September 18, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home