After over twenty years of facilitating grief support groups and counseling mourners, I have learned that nothing sparks a grieving person’s conversation more than asking “What are some of the dumb or thoughtless statements people have made to you in trying to help you with your grief?”
Suddenly the griever wakes up from his or her solemn, quiet demeanor into an animated dissertation of clichés, “inspirational” statements and glib responses from often well-meaning friends and family members that have caused them to experience shock, disbelief and sometimes emotional pain.
Here is a list of just a few of the things you might want to avoid saying to a mourner:
- You know they are in a better place. True. But that doesn’t make me miss them less or feel any less sad.
- You know that you will see them again someday. Again true. I know that but I still miss them.
- Everything happens for a reason. Does it? Or is that what we tell ourselves and others to make us feel better? It seems like in grief that life is pretty much random and without a perceivable purpose.
- Something good will come from this. How do you know that? I know God uses all the events of our lives, good or bad, to work out His purpose. But this death will never be good. So don’t try to whitewash it or make it better.
- This too shall pass. Okay, but how is that supposed to bring me comfort right now? I am mourning the loss of a person who is valuable and will be missed. No cliché takes that away. Let me grieve and heal.
- I know exactly how you feel. I’m sorry, but no you don’t. My relationship with my loved one is unique and unlike any other relationship that has or will exist. We may have grief emotions and responses in common, but you’re grief is not exactly like mine. I am different from you. Don’t compare losses because one of our two different griefs will be discounted.
- Just think about the good times and memories. In time maybe I will be able to do that. But right now I need to mourn the loss of a valuable person and all the future experiences that we could have had together.
- He (or She) wouldn’t want you to be sad (or cry, or grieve) How can you know that? And how can you say that? Most likely you are the one right now that does not want me to cry because I make you feel uncomfortable or helpless to do anything.
- They’ll always be in your heart. Yes, but I would so want them to be here with me physically now.
- God never gives you more than you can stand. First, if that’s true then I wish to high heaven that He didn’t think so highly of me. Second, that’s a misquote of scripture that says God will not allow me to be tempted more than I can endure. (I Corinthians 10:13 …”But God is faithful; He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which you are able to bear…”)
- God needed (or loved) them more than you. Again, that might be true, but my heart right now is telling how much I love and miss them. Your attempt at comfort or consolation is not working.
- Just remember: There’s always someone who has it worse than you. Yes, and I wonder if one of their friends is telling them the same thing in an effort to comfort them or short circuit their grief. This is not a contest to see who is worse off and has a greater right to suffer.
- I thought you would be doing better by now. Well, honestly, so did I. But I am learning that grief takes time. It is a process and not an event to be completed and marked off my TO DO List. I am learning to be patient with me and my grief. Please be patient as I walk this path that I did not ask to travel.
- You need to be strong for the rest of your family (or for others grieving). No, I need to mourn in a healthy way for myself and for them. I need to heal and to be a model of healthy grief for others who are also grieving.
- You just need to get busy and forget about it. How can I just forget about them? They have been, still are and will always be an important part of who I am and how I live. And no amount of being busy can wipe out how much I love and miss them.
- At least you had them for _____ (amount of time). That’s true, but their time with me wasn’t nearly long enough. If they had been with me one hundred years, I would still be wanting just one more day with them.
- How old was he (or she)? What does their age have to do with anything? Are you saying they had lived long enough and therefore, I shouldn’t miss them? Yes, they may have lived a full life in the number of years they were with me. But their physical presence was a priceless treasure that I never wanted to end.
- It was God’s Will. You don’t know that. So what gives you the right to say that?
- It was her (or his) time to go. Maybe. Maybe not. Even if it was, that doesn’t change how I feel.
- If you just trust more, you’ll be doing better. People who trust or have faith still grieve. No one of us is exempt from loss and grief.
- Don’t ask “Why?” Just because I may never get any answers to my questions doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask. I am trying to make sense out of something that is senseless to me.
If you are wanting to help a mourner, think before you speak and choose your words of comfort carefully. Ask yourself:
- Am I just saying something to be saying something?
- Am I saying this because it brings me comfort or makes me look good?
- Would this be something that I would appreciate hearing if I were in the emotional turmoil of grief?
- Is the mourner in so much pain that they cannot hear the comfort or encouragement in this statement?
- Should I simply keep quiet and listen?
The grief survival guide is also available in Spanish as “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” on Amazon.com.
Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.
FOR INFORMATION ON SCHEDULING COUNSELING SERVICES WITH LARRY BARBER Click here.