Remember that kid at school who was gone for two weeks. The rumor was that his mother passed away from cancer. Or the co-worker whose young child passed away quietly in their sleep. Maybe it is your spouse who lost one of their parents. At some time or another we will all be in relationship with people who are experiencing loss and grief. In some of those instances we may also be close to the person who died and grieving right alongside them. Unfortunately when something tragic has occurred many people shy away from interacting with the grieving person. Others may say things that are meant with good intentions but can cause more harm than good. Here I will share some things to avoid saying to someone who is grieving.
First and foremost it is important to note that everyone is different. Therefore everyone will express their grief differently and be comfortable with varying boundaries. Most people do want to know that you are supporting them, thinking about them and that you are sympathetic toward their grief. That being said, avoiding the grieving person altogether because you do not know what to say, is more harmful than anything.
Things to avoid saying to one dealing with grief.
“Everything happens for a reason.” I had a friend from college whose 3 year old daughter died unexpectedly. It is unfathomable how she felt when someone told her that everything happens for a reason as if her 3 years old death was something she could reason with. Of course the person must of meant well but often there is no rational reason or need to seek a reason for the life of her beautiful daughter being cut short. The reality is that terrible things happen to good people and there is not always a “reason”.
“God chose you because he knew you could handle it”. Once again this statement is not negative and surely the intentions behind it were pure. When a loved one has passed on especially a child there is no reassurance in you being chosen over someone else. The reality is that you cannot handle it any better than someone else and should not be expected to because someone tells you were chosen for this position. Nobody would choose to be put in such a position or want to be the chosen one in this scenario.
“Time heals all wounds, you will get over it eventually.” There are some things you just do not get over. When a loved one dies you do not just wait long enough and suddenly you are healed. You learned how to live differently. You may be able to smile again, you may be able to be happy in life but you never really get over someone’s death.
These are just a few of the things to avoid saying if you are wanting to support someone who is grieving. Sometimes the best thing is to just communicate with the person. Be there for them, ask what they need and how they feel and what you could do to support them. Do not be afraid to talk to them and ask what they need. If you do this you are more likely to know their own boundaries and the best way to help them.