The best and worst things to say to a grieving person

We’ve all been there — someone you know loses a person close to them, and you want to help them feel better but you’re not sure how.

There is a lot that you can do to help someone in their time of grief, and more often than not we try to offer words of encouragement and love. But have you ever thought about whether or not your words are hurtful rather than helpful?

Here are a few common sayings that you should avoid, and some phrases that you can replace them with.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

When someone is dealing with the unimaginable pain of losing someone they love, it’s hard enough for them to come to terms with it. Implying that the death of their loved one and the pain they feel is justified in some way can be more hurtful than you intend it to be.

Say this instead: “I wish I knew what to say — just know that I’m here for you.”

“They are in a better place.” or “They are with God now.”

Though you might mean well, saying this to someone who is grieving does not always help because it sometimes serves as another reminder that their loved one is no longer with them. It’s also possible that either the deceased or the person grieving was or is not religious, so this sentiment might not offer much comfort.

Say this instead: “You and your loved ones are in my thoughts and prayers.”

“They lived a long, full life.” or “They did what they were sent here to do, and it was their time to go.” or “Be thankful you had them for so long.”

Just because someone lived for a long time does not make the pain of losing them any less for their loved ones.

Say this instead: “My favorite memory of this person was…”

“At least they are not in pain anymore.”

If someone loses a loved one to painful disease, injury, or suicide, their last few moments or memories with them were likely tainted by this fact. It’s usually best to avoid reminding them of the pain their loved one suffered through in their last moments.

Say this instead: “They were gone from you too soon. I am so sorry for your loss.”

“At least you didn’t have any kids.”

When someone loses a partner, their grief is their own. Reminding them that there are no children grieving as well doesn’t help their personal grief, and there also is a chance they were trying to have children or they may even have recently discovered they were expecting.

Say this instead: “Let me know if you ever feel alone or need to get out of the house for a while, I’d be happy to take a walk with you or just sit and chat if you need it.”

“I know how you feel.”

Even if you’ve been in a very similar situation, you can never truly understand what someone is going through. Everyone experiences loss and grieves differently.

Say this instead: “Words cannot express our sympathy.”

“Let me tell you how to get through this.”

In the same vein as the last statement, everyone grieves differently. Something that might have worked for you or someone else you know may not work for others, because grief is unique to each person and their situation.

Say this instead: “I am only a phone call away if you need me.”

“You are young, you can remarry.”

Up until this point, this person probably imagined spending their whole lives with the spouse they lost and they likely see them as irreplaceable. Asking them to think about another person in that place will likely be viewed as disrespectful to both them and the deceased.

Say this instead: “Your spouse was so well-liked by everyone; I am sorry for your loss.”

“Be glad you have other healthy children.” or “You can have another child.”

Children have their own unique personalities and traits, and when a parent loses a child there is no way they can replace them in their heart. Even with other children, they always will feel like they are missing something.

Say this instead: “Your child always put a smile on everyone’s face, they will be missed by so many.” Or, in the case of a stillbirth or miscarriage, it might be best to just let them know you are there for them and are sorry for their loss.

“Time heals everything.”

Though most of us generally pick up the pieces at some point, our lives are never truly the same after a loss. Memories can be triggered at holidays, in certain places, or when we hear something or see something that reminds us of our loved one — they never truly leave us.

Say this instead: “Things will be difficult for a while; please know that when things get difficult, you can always reach out to me to talk.”

“Be strong.”

Besides being a cliché, this saying implies that they shouldn’t grieve or that grieving is inherently bad or makes them weak. Everyone should feel supported in their grief, regardless of their situation.

Say this instead: “It’s okay to need help. Let me know if there is anything I can do.”

“You will never be given more than you can handle.”

Eventually, the grief subsides for most of us — but when you’re in the depths of grief and the pain is fresh, it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. No doubt you mean well by saying that someone can handle this, but that’s probably not what they want to hear right now.

Say this instead: “I can’t even imagine the pain you are going through. I am here for you.”

“They brought this upon themselves.”

Blaming the person who passed away does not help the living who are grieving their loss. In many cases, these family members and friends blame themselves for what happened, and it’s best to not point any fingers — instead, just be there for them.

Say this instead: “They meant so much to us, and we are so heartbroken over this loss.”

“You’re still upset about them? They died so long ago.”

There are many reasons why a statement like this is inappropriate. Most importantly, though, it’s good to realize that not everyone grieves in the same way — some take longer than others — and that is completely okay.

Say this instead: “We will never forget them or the impression they left on our lives.”

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