What to say to a grieving person: a simple guide
When somebody we care about is dealing with a loss, we often find ourselves at a loss for words. We want to be comforting. We want to make them feel better somehow. At the very least, we don’t want to say anything that makes them feel worse.
It’s easy to resort to clichés – the same types of things that we’ve heard others say in the past. Sometimes that’s OK, and sometimes those very clichés are actually a little bit destructive.
We’ve put together a quick guide for you of some good things to say to a grieving friend and some others you might want to avoid.
Five things to say to a grieving person
“I’m sorry for your loss.” To-the-point and honest, this is one of those clichés that stands the test of time.
“Let me help you with _______.” Rather than asking your grieving friend what she’d like help with, simply make a suggestion. “Let me take care of mowing your lawn for the next few weeks.” “I’m running to the store, how about I grab you some groceries?” It can be difficult for a griever to ask for help or to specify what she needs. If you see opportunities to help, just offer.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Your friend may not be ready to discuss how he’s feeling just yet, but if he is, lending an ear can be a major benefit to his recovery. Offer to listen. If he says he’s not ready, accept that answer. If he is ready, really listen, and try not to interject with “you should”s.
“Can I tell you my favorite memory with your loved one?” This is an easy, genuine way to help your friend celebrate the life of the one they lost.
“I’m here for you if you need me for anything.” Loss can make the griever feel lonely. Just letting them know that they have a friend willing to pick up the phone at any time can be enormously soothing.
Five things not to say to a grieving person
“It was her time.” Any statement insinuating that your friend’s loss was necessary or intentional should be avoided. You would never tell a sick friend that it was “just her time” to get sick, would you? Along those same lines…
“This was a part of God’s plan.” This one, like “It was her time,” assumes that your friend’s loss was purposeful. It also assumes that you know something about the loss that she doesn’t. Sometimes hard things happen, and we don’t know why. That’s OK to recognize.
“You need to stay strong.” Your friend is allowed to feel however he feels. If he wants to cry, he should be allowed to. If he shuts down emotionally, that’s his right, too. Stay by his side if you can, but don’t force a griever to grieve in any particular way.
“He is in a better place.” No matter what your beliefs, in the eyes of the one grieving, the very best place for their lost loved one to be would be here on Earth, alive.
"I know how you feel.” Everybody’s situation is different. Although you’ve probably experienced something similar to what your friend is going through, you don’t know exactly how they feel, and saying that you do diminishes their experience. Better would be to say, “I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I’m here for you.”