Dec 182014 21 Responses

Four Things Never to Say to Someone Grieving

Grief is a universal human experience. No one has lived this life very long without experiencing some level of grief. It’s a predictable experience not only in the fact that we all experience grief, but the basic way we handle grief is the same. Whether it be the predictable sorrow of a child moving off to college or the heart-wrenching experience of sudden death, every grief shares some common elements.

Yet every grief is also unique. (See: An Ever Changing Grief)

This combination of a common experience with unique nuances, makes communicating very difficult when grief is involved. We want to interact with those grieving, but if we are not careful, our words can make their sorrow worse and not better.

Here are four things which you should never to say to someone who is grieving:

1. “I know how you feel…” Maybe you know some of what they feel, but you do not know what they feel because you are not them. No matter how similar two situations might be, they are never the same. My experience with grief helps me to have empathy toward others but it does not give an exact map of their grief. We are different people, with different experiences, and we process things in different ways. I can understand aspects of your grief, but I could never fully understand your grief because it is uniquely yours. (See: You Don’t Know Me)

2. “You are lucky because…” It’s always good to see the bright side in the midst of sorrow, but we have to be very careful when we feel led to point out the bright side to others because they may not be emotionally ready. Whenever we tell someone they are lucky because of some aspect of what they are dealing with, we are often downplaying their sorrow in comparison to someone else’s. We often conclude the “you are lucky” phrase with a description of something we went through where we weren’t as lucky. This statement takes the focus off of the other person and puts it on us. (See: A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments)

3. “It could be worse.” It’s a true statement. The situation could be worse. Rarely is there an occasion in which it couldn’t be worse. However, just because something “could be worse” does not mean it is not bad enough. Too often the statement “it could be worse” comes across as “you shouldn’t be so sad because the situation isn’t the worst case scenario.” This statement often reveals an uncomfortableness on our part to sit in the grief of another. People do not need us to downplay their sorrow; they need us to recognize it, name it, and endure it with them.

4. “At least…” This is another version of the previous two. We recognize someone’s experience but then add “at least it wasn’t…” By adding the “at least,” we undo any sense of empathy we have shown. We place ourselves as the ultimate authorities of who has truly suffered and we rule that the person we are talking to has not quite made the list. Our intentions are not evil, but our words are painful anytime we point out that “at least” this occurrence didn’t happen another way. (See: What To Do When Life Falls Apart)

The major issue when dealing with someone in grief is to recognize (and communicate) that you do not fully know what they are going through but it is significant and you want to recognize it. Refuse any temptation to downplay the person’s experience or feelings. Do not feel any pressure to excuse or explain away their pain.

Let them experience their sorrow, but let them know that you are walking beside them as they do.

What would be a fifth statement you would add of what to never say to someone grieving?

For more, see:

7 Recommended Books for When Life Hurts

Walking My Son Through the Death of His Grandfather

21 Responses to Four Things Never to Say to Someone Grieving
  1. […] Most say nothing. (See: Four Things to Never Say to Someone Grieving) […]...
  2. […] If this is a bad idea, let’s come up with something better. If there is a practical reason thi...
  3. […] 3. Miscarriage. Other than the initial announcements, I’m not sure we have ever publicly spoke...

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