The 8 worst things you can say to someone who is grieving
Ever found yourself tongue-tied when you are trying to comfort someone who is grieving. Christy Heitger-Ewing, author and freelance writer, has written a worthwhile article on best things to say to those who are grieving.
In this follow-up article, she warns us against the well-meaning things we say that actually have the opposite effect to the comfort we hope to achieve.
- “Cheer up. Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.”
After my mom died, people told me that she would hate to see me carrying around such pain and that, to honor her memory, I should stop being sad. Sure, Mom liked to see me happy, but for a period of time after she died, I simply couldn’t be happy. When you love deeply, you grieve deeply. Grievers need to be sad in order to get to the other side of grief.
- “Focus on all the blessings in your life.”
While this message is optimistic and all, it’s not really what a grieving person wants to hear when his world has just been shattered. Even if a griever appreciates the good things in his life, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s reeling from a monumental loss.
- “She’s/he’s in a better place.”
But here’s the problem: if my mom is there, she can’t be here. And I want her here. Call me selfish, but I want her here beside me, holding my hand, offering advice, giggling, singing and doing that humming thing that only she could do.
- “It’s been awhile since he/she died. It’s time you get over it.”
You know how a week zips by for you whereas a week, from a toddler’s perspective, feels like an eternity? That’s kind of how grief time works. It’s skewed. A grieving person can look at a calendar and see that “X” amount of time has passed since their loved one died, but time is irrelevant when it comes to healing a broken heart. You can’t put a timetable on grief. It is ridiculous to suggest that anyone should hurry up and “get over” losing someone close.
- “Cherish all of the wonderful memories. They will bring you peace.”
I think this statement is true, in time. But the last thing a newly grieving person wants to hear is to cherish the memories. When their heart is hurting, their mind spinning and faith broken, thinking about old memories guts them because they want to create new memories, which they can no longer do.
- “Pull yourself together because you need to be there for your kids.”
No one expects a patient to hop off of the operating table after undergoing heart surgery so that she can fix her kids dinner. So please don’t make a grieving parent feel even worse by suggesting that she’s neglecting her children due to her grief. That’s just cruel.
Grief affects every aspect of someone’s physical and emotional health. It interferes with one’s ability to sleep, eat, concentrate, and function. No one has the right to ask another person to swallow her pain to focus on others. Doing so only prolongs grief. Kristi Smith, author of Dream: A Guide to Grieving Gracefully, says that transformation comes from first taking care of oneself. “Choose to help yourself, so that you can then turn around and help others,” says Smith. It’s kind of like the oxygen mask rule in airplanes: ensure your own breath before assisting those around you.
- “So, how ‘bout them Broncos?”
Though it seems like you’re doing the griever a favor by keeping conversations superficial, what grievers need is someone willing to let them be real, someone not afraid to talk about the tough stuff, the sad stuff, the human stuff. They need someone who will sit and listen and maybe even cry with them. This isn’t saying you must never discuss sports or the weather. Just keep in mind that real healing comes from some of the heavier conversations.
- “I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now.”
I would encourage you to do just that. Stop and think about how you would feel if you were faced with the griever’s circumstances. Consider their feelings. Contemplate their pain. Imagine their struggle. Doing so will spark empathy in you, the best thing you can offer someone who is hurting because when you empathise, the right words come more freely.
Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s award-winning book Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat. Visit her author website at Christyheitger-ewing.com/.