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10 Things You Should Not Say To A Grieving Person

10 Things You Should Not Say To A Grieving Person

When someone you care about is grieving, it is human nature to try to comfort them and help ease their pain. However, sometimes our good intentions can be more harmful than helpful, particularly the things we often say with the intention to make them feel better.

A large part of the problem is our own discomfort with grief and not knowing how to speak to someone who is grieving. Instinctively, we try to “fix” the hurt and make the pain go away. However, grief is a necessary process that cannot, and should not, be dusted under the rug so that the grieving person can feel good again.

As a therapist, I have many times worked with clients who have tried to treat feelings of loss and grief with a band-aid approach, only to find that their unresolved grief has manifested in other areas of their lives. If you want to support someone who is grieving, choose words that convey love and care, rather than offering advice and wisdom. Here are 10 things you should NOT say to a grieving person.

They are in a better place

Even if you know the person believes in a “better” place, the grief they are experiencing is not about where their loved one has gone to, but about the sense of loss that they will never share moments with their loved one again. On a mental level, there might be some solace knowing that their loved one is somewhere better, on an emotional level, hearing that can lead to feelings of anger and resentment that there is a better place other than right here, with people that love them.

What to say instead:

Acknowledge the loss by saying, “I am so sorry for your loss, [he/she] will be sorely missed.” Saying this conveys the message that you recognize that the grief is about the fact that the person is no longer around and that it is a difficult time for everyone.

I know how you feel

Even if you have experienced a similar loss, you DO NOT know how the person feels. There is an expression that goes “no two griefs are the same.” You might be able to relate the the grieving person’s pain, but remember that their time of grief is not about you, it is about them. If you truly have experienced a similar loss, you would know that during times of grief, your thoughts and actions are ruled by your emotions. Hearing someone say they “know how you feel” can sometimes lead to feelings of anger toward that person.

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What to say instead:

Do not assume you know how they feel. Rather say, “You are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.” This lets the person know that you recognize they are having a difficult time and that you are thinking about them even when you are not around.

It was God’s will

Regardless of your religious beliefs, and even if you know the person shares your faith, when you lose someone you love it is natural to experience feelings of anger and question God or whatever higher power you believe in. Reiterating the role the will of God has played in the person’s loss can fuel these feelings at a time when the grieving person most needs to hold onto their faith.

What to say instead:

If you know the person shares your belief in God, try to remind them that God loves and cares about them and God is aware of their pain. For example, “I pray that God will make it easy for you and your family during this difficult time”.

Everything happens for a reason

There can never be any reason good enough that will make the pain of loss any less. When you say this, you are expecting the grieving person to think about their loss logically, when in reality there is no logic in grief.

What to say instead:

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Say something that affirms the questions a person who is grieving will often ask with something like, “It is so hard to know why we lose people when we do. I am so sorry for your loss.”

You can still have another child/remarry

This is probably the most distasteful things one can say, especially when someone is newly grieving. It implies that the person they have lost is easily replaceable.

What to say instead:

Honor the fact that the person lost can never be replaced. You could say, “I know how much you loved [name], [he/she] will forever remain in our hearts.”

You have to be strong

Do not dismiss the right the person has to grieve. Why do they need to be strong? For who? Being “strong” is not for the benefit of the grieving person, but for those around them. People often say this to people who have children, because the assumption is that it is not good for children to see their parents sad. On the contrary, children should not be socialized to deny or hide their emotions, but to embrace and process it. By seeing your parent express sadness, but deal with it in healthy ways such as talking to a friend, crying on someone’s shoulders, and talking to their kids about how they feel, this builds more resilient children.

What to say instead:

If you are concerned about the wellbeing of a child or children, rather ask, “How are the kids holding up?” Or, if you feel they need some relief from all the grief, how about offer to take the kids for a walk or to the park, or even just to spend some time with the kids at home while the grieving person takes time to grieve.

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They wouldn’t want you to feel sad

It may not be your intention, but saying this is synonymous with guilt-tripping the person into not feeling sad. Of course nobody want to see their loved one feel sad, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t. Grief and sadness is a necessary part of processing the loss, and saying that can make the person feel like they aren’t handling the loss “correctly.”

What to say instead:

Sometimes people need to hear that it is okay to feel sad. Say, “I can see you are really sad, just know that I am here for you.” This let’s the person know that you know that they are feeling sad and that it is okay.

At least they aren’t suffering now

This may be true, particularly when the person who died had been suffering from pain prior to passing, however the grieving person does not need to be reminded of this pain, nor do they want to believe that anything is better than having their loved one around. Saying this can also make the person feel guilty for wishing their loved one was still alive, as though they should be thankful for the loss.

What to say instead:

Rather focus on the positive attributes about the person’s life that the grieving person would want to remember by saying something like, “[name] showed so much strength,” or “I will always remember [name]’s [positive trait e.g. laugh].”

If you need anything, give me a call

This is probably the most common offer of help given to a grieving person, so it will surprise many to hear that it is one of the most unhelpful things you can say. When someone is overcome with grief, it can be difficult for them to plan ahead and think about what help they will need, and when they do realize they need help it can be very difficult for many people to actually pick up the phone and call you.

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What to say instead:

If you are sincere in your offer of help, rather be specific in your offering. For example, if you know you are going to the grocery store, you could give the person a call and ask if they need any groceries that you can drop off. The influx of visitors who come to pay their respects can also place a huge burden on the grieving person, so offer to serve guests tea, or offer to bake a cake or cook a meal.

At least they lived a long life, some people die so young

It doesn’t matter how long the person lived, losing their presence in your life is still hard. Saying this implies the person lived long enough and that the grieving person should feel grateful that the person hadn’t died sooner.

What to say instead:

Share your favorite memory of the person they have lost instead, as this acknowledges the life the person lived without dismissing that the fact that the grieving person will not be able to make new memories and that this is a source of great sadness. For example, “I will always remember that time… [he/she] will be sorely missed.”

It is not always easy to thing of the right thing to say in the moment. If you are at a loss for words, there is no shame in admitting so. Tell the person, “I wish I knew the right words to say, just know that I am here for you”.

Giving someone who is grieving a firm, supportive hug can go a long way.

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Last Updated on October 14, 2019

12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

12 Inspirational Speeches That Teach You the Most Valuable Life Lessons

The most valuable thing an experienced person has is their experience. People make mistakes, learn from them, and adapt their life around them to become better people. Those people would then tell tales to others to help teach those lessons so that others would not have to make the same mistakes.

People still tell these stories today but in a slightly different format — they use speeches to express their experiences. Here are some valuable life lessons you can learn from some of the greatest inspirational speeches:

1. JK Rowling teaches us to not fear failure no matter how bad things become

It is a well-known fact that JK Rowling’s now-famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally picked up. Those publishers are likely kicking themselves in the pants right now. However, before that, JK Rowling was in a fairly dire situation and was on the brink of failure. Despite being turned down time and time again, she kept trying. Her efforts paid off. Harry Potter is now a ubiquitous character in today’s world culture. Despite failing over and over again, Rowling kept trying and fulfilled her dreams. You can watch her deliver some valuable life lessons in her Harvard commencement speech video above.

2. Steve Jobs teaches us to never settle

Steve Jobs had a fairly tumultuous life. He co-founded Apple, was kicked out of the company, came back, and then re-defined the mobile phone space with the iPhone. Even if iPhones aren’t the rage they once were, its iconic value is forever written in stone. One thing Jobs never did was settle. He lived life on his own terms and was rewarded for it by being dubbed one of the most revolutionary voices in technology of our time. In the Stanford commencement speech above, Jobs explains how you should never settle for what someone else wants out of your life. It’s your life and you should do what you want with it.

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3. Admiral William H McRaven teaches us to make our beds every day

Anyone who has gone through the basic training of a military service will tell you it’s pretty difficult. However, every seemingly obnoxious step is actually a life lesson in disguise. This even applies to flawlessly making one’s bed every single morning. As Admiral William H McRaven teaches us, recruits are taught to make their beds every morning to remind them that even the little things in life matter. After all, how can you be expected to handle the biggest obstacles in your life if you can’t even handle the small and the mundane like making your bed every day? You can watch the entire speech in the video above.

4. Author David Foster Wallace teaches us that we’re a part of a greater existence

David Foster Wallace found fame in 1987 with his book The Broom of the System. Nearly 20 years later in 2005 he game a commencement speech at Kenyon College that is worth listening to at least once. In his speech, he reminds us that was are but a part of a huge, dynamic, ever changing interaction of life forms. In order to truly experience life, we need to leave our personal bubbles and interact with others even if it’s in an unpleasant way. Wallace states, “It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” You can watch the whole speech above.

5. Stephen Colbert teaches us that life isn’t something you can plan

If there is anyone who knows about improvisation, it’s comedian Stephen Colbert. In his commencement speech at Northwestern University in 2011, Colbert reminded students that you cannot plan life. Life throws too many curve balls. There are too many unpredictable things that can happen. The most successful and happy people are not those who have a plan, but those who can roll with the punches and overcome the obstacles. He goes on to site his time as an improv comic and how all of the actors working together to create a scene out of literally nothing are all working for one another. He states that like improv comedy, you don’t know what happens next in life. You just make it up as you go along. You can watch the whole speech above.

6. Kurt Vonnegut teaches us to not sweat the small stuff

Some of our younger readers may not know Kurt Vonnegut. He is a famous author that found of of his success during the middle of last century. In 1999, Kurt Vonnegut was at Agnes Scott College giving a commencement speech. During the speech, he mentioned that in order to live a more complete life, people needed to let stuff go. He argued that you cannot reasonably expect others to forgive you for your mistakes if you cannot forgive others and that you cannot live life fostering a personal vendetta against others.

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7. Neil Gaiman teaches us that success can be distracting.

Neil Gaiman is most known for his work in a number of literary mediums including journalism, comic books, and novels. In 2012, Gaiman gave a speech at the University of the Arts where he talked about success. He stated that when you become successful, you may be unintentionally swayed from performing the actions that made you successful. Gaiman recalled his early success and how he felt pressured to answer emails all day long and it actually prevented him from writing as much as he wanted. So he reminds us to keep doing what makes us successful and to not let others get in the way.

8. Barack Obama’s life lessons teaches us that you really can beat the odds

We know that not everyone likes Barack Obama but that doesn’t mean the man can’t deliver an amazing speech. In this 2004 keynote speech at the Democratic National Convenction, Obama reminds that it is possible to beat the odds and become something great. He cites his own upbringing as an example and how he was never expected to make it as far as he did. It shows that when you’re passionate about something and when you try hard enough, you can accomplish almost anything. It’s important to note that Obama talks about this in 2004 and would become the President of the United States just four years later.

9. Robin Roberts reminds us that we each have the courage to overcome challenges

Robin Roberts knows a thing or two about courage. She is a breast cancer survivor and has done battle with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome. Her sister once had to donate bone marrow just so Robin could remain alive. She was also ESPN’s first African American broadcaster in the early 1990’s. She’s a woman who works in an industry predominately populated by men. So when Robin Roberts takes the stage at the ESPYs and delivers a short lecture on having courage, we would do well to listen!

10. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us that some things are more important than success

We all know the story of Martin Luther King Jr. So much so that we have a day of the year to celebrate him as a national holiday here in the United States. Most of us have listening to segments of his famous speech where he told the world about a dream he had. The main message of his famous speech is that racial inequalities needed to end and he was absolutely right. However, he also reminds us that there are things that are more important than success such as equal rights and treating each other with respect and kindness. If you somehow made it through school without watching the famous speech, we’ve got it linked above.

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11. Jim Carrey reminds us that even if you keep it safe, you can still fail so you might as well go big

Jim Carrey delivered a commencement speech at Maharishi University recently that went absolutely viral. You may know it as the one minute video that will change your life. They weren’t lying but they weren’t telling the whole truth because the speech was actually 28 minutes long. During the speech, Carrey talks about his father who wanted to be a comedian but decided to take the safe route and become an accountant. As it turns out, his father was laid off and his family ended up poor anyway. With that, Carrey tells us that you can still end up failing even if you play it safe so you might as well swing for the fences and do what you want to do.

12. Bill Murray teaches us that it’s the hard times that determine if someone really loves you

You may have heard the story about Bill Murray crashing someone’s bachelor party and delivering a speech. It turns out the speech was both short and fairly epic. During the speech, Bill Murray challenged the bachelors to travel around the world with the women they love and go to places that are difficult to go to and deal with. He says if you can get back to the United States and you still love each other, then you should get married right then and there. It’s a great message. It’s easy to love one another when times are good but do you still love each other when the times are bad? If so, that’s true love according to Bill Murray.

Final thoughts

Inspiration comes from everywhere and from anyone. There are a countless number of speeches and stories that can teach us an incalculable number of life lessons.

All these speeches almost share the same message: Don’t be afraid to fail and keep trying.

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If you also want to live your best life like the above successful people, this is what you should start doing:

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

At the end of the day, everything is inspirational. It’s just a matter of finding the message that we need to hear to change our lives.

Featured photo credit: Miguel Henriques via unsplash.com

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