What to Say and Do When Someone is Grieving
- “I am sorry” or “I am sad to hear about ___’s death.” **(For some “I’m sorry” may sound like an apology or a cliché as it is heard over and over.)
- “How are things today?”
- “I’ll call you.” (But only if you will)
- Share stories about the person who died.
- Realize there is no set time by which they should “doing better” or be able to “move on”.
- Remember anniversaries, holidays and birthdays of the person who died.
- Follow the lead of the grieving person. They will let you know what they need.
- Listen to: their story, their questions, their feelings and their behavior.
- Listen 90% and talk 10% of the time. **(Say things that help the person “feel felt” or things that invite them to talk more.)
- Ask them what they need from you right now.
- Just sit with the person.
- Offer to do tasks: laundry, shopping, childcare, transportation, phone calls etc.
- Send sympathy cards and attend religious services.
Things Not to Say or Do When Someone is Grieving
- “Time heals all wounds.” (Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Expressing my grief and getting support is what heals).
- “Call me if you need me.” (Instead, offer to do something specific at a certain time.)
- “Well, at least…” “If you think this is bad, I know a family…” (Both of these minimize my feelings.)
- “Try to look for the good in the situation.” “Be positive”. “You should be grateful for…..” It’s okay to let people have all of their feelings about the death. When we ask them to look for the positive, we are usually minimizing their feelings because we are uncomfortable with their pain.
- “Your loved one is in a better place.” “It was God’s will.” “God needed another angel in heaven.” (There is no better place for my loved one than with me).
- “The Lord never gives us more than we can handle.” (That is not how I feel right now).
- “Try not to cry. He or she wouldn’t want you to cry.” “Be strong.” “You are doing so well.” (This makes me feel like I have to hide my sadness.)
- “I know how you feel.” (This is one of the worst things to say, as we never really know how someone else feels.)
- “You have your whole life ahead of you. “ You can always remarry, get a new pet, or have another child.” (Those we love are not replaceable.)
- “Something good will come of this.” “Everything will be okay.” (Your being positive doesn’t make me feel better.)
- “You should (stay busy, keep positive, give away their possessions, start dating etc.)” (Avoid giving unsolicited advice. With time and support I will figure out what to do and when to do it.)
- “He had a long life.” (Grief occurs whether you knew the person a short or very long time.)
- “Now you are the man of the house.” “You are going to have to help with the other kids.” (This is a heavy burden to place on a grieving child. This tells them to assume adult responsibilities when they are most in need of support themselves. It also tells them not to express their grief.)
- “It’s been over a year. Don’t you think you should be moving on with your life?” (There is no set timeframe to the process of mourning. People may experience grief for the rest of their lives.)
**All of us have said the wrong thing to someone who is grieving. Maya Angelou says, “When we know better, we do better.” If you say the wrong thing, apologize and remember that your loving presence is more powerful than any right or wrong thing you might say.