What Not to Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

The past several years I have experienced my share of funerals.  I have also talked with friends who have gone through the death of a loved one and how others have either been helpful or not helpful during that time.

One of the hardest things for those of us on the outside, when someone we care about is grieving, is what to say.  Sometimes we say things simply because we don’t know what else to say.  Or we may think it is the “Christian” way to respond.  Yet many times those responses are less than helpful and more harmful.

For instance, “She is in a better place” or “Jesus needed her,” and things like that may appear to be the right thing to say but for the person who is grieving all they are thinking is, “Her better place is here with us, “I need her.”  Many of the things we say or the Scripture verses we quote, the person is quite aware of.  They know the truth deep down inside but at that moment in time, they are grieving and hurting.  They don’t necessarily want to hear that during the stage of grief.

At other times we may say something like, “Oh, I know just how you feel” or “I know what you are going through.”  The truth is we don’t.  Even if we have a lost loved one, every death is different.  Each person reacts differently, feels differently and has a personal background with the person who has died that cannot possibly be the same as what you experienced.  The only thing we really know is that they are grieving and sorrowful but that’s about all. 

I think it’s best to avoid saying some of these common things.  I have heard from others who would really rather not hear those ordinary comments during their time of grieving. 

So you may be wondering…what do you say then?  Sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all.  People are sometimes afraid of silence.  But many times silence speaks louder than words.  A hug, a shared tear, a smile and other affectionate gestures can speak volumes.  They have true meaning behind them. 

Offer to pray with them, to help with a meal.  Be there for them but don’t try to dismiss their feelings by passing them off with words that although you think are helpful really are not. 

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  1. Joe_Sewell said:

    I recall being in a study group at one church, and the pastor who was leading it had an odd request at the end: essentially it was a “prayer circle,” but with each of us facing outward from the circle. I don’t recall the significance of that now. What I do recall, though, was being next to a dear, sweet lady who had just lost her daughter to breast cancer. The daughter was in her 30’s or 40’s, I think, while I was still in my 20’s. The mother’s loss had happened several months earlier, but she still grieved when she was reminded of her daughter, whose name was Peggy. (I regret that I don’t recall Peggy’s mother’s name.) Anyhow, I saw her start to sob after hearing something that even reminded me of Peggy. We weren’t holding hands in our little circle, but I put my arm around Peggy’s mom at that moment. I knew that’s what she needed. Later she thanked me so much, admitting she needed that for strength.

    November 10, 2010
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  2. That is a perfect example…a simple hug meant so much. Thanks for sharing!

    November 10, 2010
    Reply

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