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How the Bereaved Can Respond to Hurtful Words

In a grief groups I often hear the bereaved say that family and friends often try to console with words, but rather than being helpful, these words hurt.  Supporters say things like:  You can always have more children.   They’re better off with God now.  The best way to do this is to get rid of their stuff right away.    

When a loved one dies, supporters say things they have heard from others throughout their lives, not really knowing what to say.  These words, though well intentioned, are often not a comfort.   If the things we say to provide comfort cause pain instead, what should we say?  Here are some thoughts for both the support and the bereaved.


Kenneth Doka Ph.D., MDiv., a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle, Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America and prolific author provides these thoughts for the bereaved and the supporter.  For the bereaved he recommends that we look at ourselves and how we respond to these statements of support and care.

  • First, we might consider what the person is trying to say.   They are not intentionally trying to be hurtful, and are simply trying to provide some comfort to the bereaved.
  • Next, he suggests we consider why the comment hurt.  Usually, when we acknowledge why that comment hurt, can we begin to heal the hurt.  Most of the comments hurt because they seem to invalidate our grief.
  • Now we need to choose what we say in response.  Doka suggests that the bereaved may never have a chance to respond, but just thinking about a response, will give you back a sense of control.  In his article, Doka offers some examples of hurtful statements and responses.  One that I often hear is:  At least she is not suffering anymore.   How does this make us, the bereaved, feel?  Why does it make us feel that way?  If this was hurtful, how might we respond?   I often offer:  Yes, she is not suffering anymore, but I would still rather have her here.  Doka offers that the bereaved should trust your instincts and give yourself time and space.


For a copy of his complete article follow the link below:

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.


Words to Help Support the Bereaved

The Center for Grief & Loss developed this tool to assist us in choosing words that might be of more comfort and acknowledge their grief.  This is a small sample.  A full list is available through our grief groups at Bakken-Young.


Unhelpful Phrases

Helpful Phrases

“If I were you, I would do it this way.”

“I can’t tell you what to do because I’m not you, and I have never had this happen to me.”

“Count your blessings.”

Avoid this cliché because it can make the bereaved feel guilty for grieving at a time when they have other things to be thankful for. Grieving is necessary and leads to wholeness.

“God needs her more than you do.”

“We know you needed this person and feel a great sense of loss.”

“Think of all your precious memories.”

“I know that memories are poor substitutes for having this person with you, but I hope they will give you some comfort.”

Take time to learn what words or phrases might be helpful to the bereaved. Asking them, is a good place to start.  Acknowledge that you don’t know what to say, and then give them time and listen.  Validate whatever they think or feel, do not take that away from them.   More to come on this topic.


“No one can take my grief away, I know that.  Though it would be much easier to bear, if someone were willing to sit near it, with me.”  A Griever

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