Offer Condolences Correctly

10 Things Never to Say to a Grieving Person
grieving

It can be hard to know what to say to grieving friends or family members after the loss of someone close. One risk is that you unwittingly sound like what grief expert Robert Neimeyer of the University of Memphis calls the "grief police" -- well-intentioned but misguided helpers who suggest to the bereaved person that there's a "right" way to grieve. (There isn't.)

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If you want to be consoling and compassionate when offering condolence, avoid phrases like the following:

1. "Stop crying; you're only making it worse." Expressing emotions, even strongly if so inclined, is a natural, normal, and healthy reaction to death.

2. "You should let your emotions out or you'll feel worse later." It's also normal for some people to not cry; not showing outward emotions doesn't mean the person is grieving less or will have some kind of "delayed reaction."

3. "At least he's not suffering any more." This offers little condolence. Whatever the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering.

4."You must be strong." (Or "God never gives us more than we can handle.") Such statements imply that it's wrong to feel bereft, which is a perfectly natural response.

5."God must have wanted her." No mortal can purport to know God's purpose. People who don't believe in God might also bristle at your presumption in attaching a religious significance to the loss.

6."Don't dwell on it." It's normal and natural -- as well as helpful -- to talk about the person who died.

7. "I know exactly how you feel." In fact, you can't. Even if you've experienced a similar loss, you're not the bereaved person, and you didn't have the same relationship to the person who died.

8. "At least he was old enough to live a full life." How old would old "enough" be?

9. "You're lucky. At least [you have money, you're young and attractive, he didn't commit suicide, etc.]." Loss is always horrible. Comparing misfortunes to others' or to alternate scenarios won't make the person feel better.

10."It's been [six months, one year, etc.]; it's time to move on." People never stop grieving for a lost loved one. Affixing a deadline to mourning is insensitive and does little to help people learn to live through their loss.

What's better said in condolence? Try these 10 helpful things to say to a grieving person.


about 1 month ago, said...

They might be in a better place if u was a Christian. So please don't even get me started going there people, cause if it was your funeral you wouldn't want that either.


3 months ago, said...

Number one should be he/she is in a better place. No they are not. A better place is here with family and loved ones. They are in a "different" place. There is no comfort in these words. I have never understood why anymore would assume these words could somehow help. In myself it has only invited angry feelings.


over 1 year ago, said...

depends on the faith of the love one and deceased,i have to know the person for a comment i found letting them know i was attending and a light hugg,with you have my number then a card fitting the person,death is final empty.very sacred to me .


over 1 year ago, said...

My Father's Memorial Service is tomorrow, so I'll see what things are told to me that may be on the list, or that may need to be added.... I do look to intent, rather than choosing to take offense, with what people might blurt out.


over 1 year ago, said...

thank you altho i was shocked how some of these statetments could help.people just trying to help ..i understand i did see a couple i'm very guilty of tho thanks sandi5e


over 1 year ago, said...

Be guided by your inner thoughts as to what to say and feel it in your heart. I am a nurse who nursed my mother in her own home until she became too weak for me to move so my Dad and I put her in hospital and never left her alone- those who grieve the hardest have the most regrets. Never let a family member die with regrets in your heart.


over 1 year ago, said...

#7 Telling a grieving person, "I know exactly how you feel" this should be #1 becasue it is the most common and most hurtful comment people make to those grieving. I know very closely a woman who had three Miscarriages in a row. The husband each time had to take the fetus from the toilet and bring it to the Hospital. When I called the first thing I said was, I have no idea how you feel. The man in tears told me , you are the first truthful person to talk to me about our problems. I cannot bare to hear another person say "I know how I feel" when they have never went through it.


over 1 year ago, said...

Time will make it better, that's another statement that should not be made. It is the one that has upset me the most. Really? No, I will always feel the loss of my Dad.


over 1 year ago, said...

I used to express my sympathy by saying, "I'm so sorry about your loss," because it was exactly how I feel at those times, but it was never well received and garnered some very strange looks, so I find it best to say absolutely nothing but to offer a hug instead and that is almost always well received.


over 1 year ago, said...

Just a note to those who say "God doesn't give you more than you can handle" - this is an incorrect interpretation of Scripture. Scripture says that God will not give you more TEMPTATION than you can handle. There is a difference. When the burden of grief is too heavy, God wants you to rely on Him.


over 1 year ago, said...

This list is so true! I recently lost my mom, and everyone calls to ask "are you ok", like I'm supposed to say "I'm great"! And to hear how God won't give me more than I can handle, my response is "then he thinks I'm the toughest B alive". No one knows the pain I feel or the loneliness I'm going through having to cope with the fact that my mom is gone. But one comment that needs to be added to this list is "do you think they're happy seeing you this way". That definitely does not make the grieving person feel any better or somehow become motivated to do things. In fact, that statement is annoying and inconsiderate to make.


over 1 year ago, said...

Some of this made a little sense, but most of it seemed to be the writer putting their own personal views in play, whether they are professionally trained or not. A true Christian cannot and should not remove God from their thoughts in such situations, and thus mentioning God is natural. If the bereaved person does not believe, perhaps this is the moment they will open up to the possibility. If you are there, then you are a friend and they can take your comments because they will know you (and that you are a believer). The concept of God calling us home is a pretty standard belief. And yes, we can know how they feel. Everyone knows it is a general and relative comment that is more or less true of those who have been through the same thing. The article is nit picky and too much the personal views of the author.


over 1 year ago, said...

Most people do not know what to say, but feel obligated to say something. We need information on WHAT TO SAY, more than what NOT to say.


over 1 year ago, said...

And don't say "Heaven gained another angel". People do NOT become angels.


almost 2 years ago, said...

I'd like to add 3 more "NEVERS"................................................................ . 11. "IF THERE IS ANYTHING I CAN DO, PLEASE LET ME KNOW." If you don't REALLY mean it, then DON"T say it. You have no idea how much hurt and disillusionment this can add. Don't try to seem heroic just to be acknowledged and receive a "thank you" from vulnerable grieving people......and then when they have their hopes up to rely on you and ask for something --as YOU clearly promised-- you find excuses why you can't help. By doing this, you add to grieving people's loss by not "being there" for them............................................................................ . 12. "YOU ARE DEPRESSED. YOU SHOULD SEE A COUNSELOR AND TAKE MEDS." How much time did you spend with the person to determine this...and what psychology degree do you hold? This blunt observation is not always the case. Grieving people are understandably very sad and re-act in a very human way....and they are not necessarily depressed, need counseling, and/or meds. So don't play "pre-counselor" with a set "diagnosis" and a "magic" pill cure-all...and add to the person's burden. Instead, spend some time with the person. Let him or her talk, while you listen with compassion................................................................................................. . 13. "JOIN A CRAFT CLUB." Grieving people are already in a new, unfamiliar world without their loved one. They need time to accept and to learn how to adjust without abruptly adding strangers and new situations in to their lives. They will progress in their own way, in their own time. So don't give a suggestion like this as if you are telling them: 'I have no time for you, but complete strangers or others will have time.'.............Further: People so casually suggest this as if joining a craft club will replace one's loss, like a "cure all."


almost 2 years ago, said...

What has helped me through the death of two sons both young and not to violence but just learning the truth about the condition of the dead and the hope of the resurrection knowing that I will see them again because the Bible promises and proof of that is: (Jesus was raised up in 3 days )was not always religious but learning that was encouraging and hopeful my favorite scripture is (Eccl 9:5) and knowing that death will be no more no mourning no more outcry the former things have passed away (Rev 21:3,4)so death will be a thing of the past and we will live on a paradise earth like God promised before Adam and Eve rebelled we were never created to get sick an old and die that's why they were creted PERFECT from th beginning but since they messed up sin entered the world through one man that's why wer'e all imperfect if that's not encouraging I don't know anything more encouraging.


about 2 years ago, said...

does anyone out there know a good song for a funeral presentation? I have the dani & lizy Angel song but need a couple more good songs for my mom's passing.


over 2 years ago, said...

A very timely article: 3 months ago, after 63 years of marriage, I became a widow. Not unexpected: my husband had Alzheimer's and in many ways it was a relief when it was finally over. Our 3 children are all adults as are 6 of our 8 grandchildren and all were and are very helpful. Instead of a funeral, we had a Memorial Service which gave my children time to put together a lovely program filled with photos of all of us throughout the years. It was truly a celebration of my husband's life. Having gone through the deaths of each of my parents and a 12 year old son I had heard everything. Somehow people said the right thing this time!