Your friend’s father just died and you’re in a panic.
“What should I say? What if I say something wrong?”
Hey, it’s really not your fault our society is so death-and-grief-phobic. No one ever taught you how to be with someone who is grieving. Here are seven things not to say, along with better ways of saying them.
1. Not: “He’s in a better place” or “Just be happy he’s not in pain anymore.”
The place she wants him to be is with her, no matter how much pain he was in or how difficult the care-giving was.
Better: “You must miss him terribly.”
2. Not: “You’ll get married again” or “You can always have other children” or “At least you have your other children.”
But the person he really wants back and is grieving for isn’t here and he will not ever be able to replace her. Honor that.
Better: “I know how special she was to you and how much you loved her.”
3. Not: “It’s time for you to get yourself together.”
Each person’s path of grief is unique. Maybe it isn’t time for her to get herself “together” yet. Even if she is not functioning well enough to take care of herself or her family, it may be best to get friends and loved ones to pitch in to take care of the family for awhile rather than shaming her or having her feel that she’s “not handling this better.”
Better: “It looks like this is a rough day for you. How about if I bring some dinner over about six?”
4. Not: “I’m sure it will all be better soon.”
Ouch! It’s so hard to watch a friend or family member grieve… we often want him to feel better so we’ll feel better! Remember, he may be thinking he’ll never feel better so presuming how he is going to feel in the future may be very frustrating for him.
Better: “I’ll be here for as long as you need me.”
5. Not: “God’s plans are always the best. It must have been what He intended.”
This has the possibility of creating anger toward God or a higher power in the grieving person. Also, it’s very important to know the person’s belief system before mentioning anything about God or a higher power. Don’t assume the person has the same faith or belief that you do.
Better: “I’m so sorry.”
6. Not: “Don’t cry in front of the children.”
Kids are often more upset by what they don’t know than what they do know, so many times it’s appropriate to model normal grief for the children.
Better: “How are the kids doing with this?”
7. Not: Saying nothing at all.
This is actually one of the worst things that can happen to a grieving person: having people ignore his pain. If you’re not sure what to say, or are uncertain that the person wants to talk about it, it’s okay to say just that.
Better: “I’m not sure what to say but I want you to know I’m here for you” and/or “Do you feel like talking about her death right now?”
The best thing to remember when being with a grieving person is just that: be with her. Sometimes you don’t even need to talk. She just wants to know that you are okay to sit with her in her pain.
But in case you’ve been worried about what to say while you’re sitting with her, I hope these ideas have been helpful.
For more, check out my article on grieving, But I Don’t Know What to Say . . . how to talk with a person in grief.