What Not to Say to a Grieving Loved One
by Lori Pederson
Knowing what not to say can be just as important as finding the right words to comfort a loved one when they are grieving. Many of the following sayings might seem on the surface to be the "right" thing to say; after all you have probably heard them said at a funeral. However, to a person grieving these common "words of support" encourage them to deny their true emotions and can be hurtful.
Here are a few sayings to try to avoid:
1. The I'll Be There For You...But Not Really Response.
Call me if you need to talk! (but the person is always too busy to talk to you).
One of the most common stories I have heard from those that are grieving, are that friends and even family often avoid them when they need them the most. When you are feeling extremely vulnerable, you want to be able to count on friends and family to be there for you. Try to do your best to call or stop by to see how your friend is doing. If they leave you a message, be sure to call them back. It may be difficult at times to be there but making the effort can be truly healing to a friend in need.
2. The Look on the Bright Side Response
Your loss is nothing compared to what I heard in the news the other day, you should be thankful. You are young; you can always have another child. Don't worry, you can always get remarried. Don't be sad, they are in a better place now. Your mother lived a long life; you shouldn't be upset that she passed away.
Grief is unique to each individual. Just because someone else's life may be more dramatic does not make your friend's pain any less important to them. Allow your loved one to freely share their personal story.
3. The Overly Negative Response
You must feel so lost. Things are really going to be awful for you for awhile. You poor thing, life will never be the same. You must have a dark cloud over you. How do you think your loved one would feel if they saw you like this? If you were more religious these things would not be happening to you.
Someone who is grieving is already feeling overwhelmed and sad. These negative comments have a way of making someone feel even worse. If you are really trying to sympathize with their feelings, try asking them how they are feeling and allow them to express what they are going through.
4. The Just Get Over It Response
Are you better now? Your loved one passed away so long ago, why are you still upset? Crying and being depressed will not bring your loved one back. Oh it's just an animal, you can get another one.
Grief is not a disease or a psychological condition you can take a pill for and be cured. You don't "just get over it". When you have experienced a loss, you learn day by day to live your life without your loved one but the loss is not erased from your memory. Allow your friend to heal at their own pace.
Wow, so is there anything you can say?
Most people do not consciously say things to be hurtful. They have either heard them said a hundred times so they don't understand how they might affect someone or they become so nervous about saying the "right" thing that the words come out awkward.
One of the most important things to remember when you are trying to comfort a grieving friend is to not diminish their feelings. Grief is normal. You may become uncomfortable when watching someone go through the deep emotional pain that can occur when someone is grieving, that is normal too. If you desire to be a supportive friend, allow the person to feel the full range of emotions they are feeling - both the celebration of the person's life and the deep feelings of loss and loneliness. By allowing grief to take its natural progression you will assist your friend reach a sense of balance in their life.
The best thing you can do is keep it simple and heartfelt. Not sure what to say... why not start with asking yourself this simple question... What would you like someone to say to you if you lost a loved one?
Remember to...Hug them, Love them, Show up and Listen. You will do more for your friend by showing up and listening than any words can ever say.
© 2011 Lori Pederson
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