When someone dies, we have a clear idea of what we should do: we go to the funeral, send bereavement cards or flowers visit the family. But after the initial period, the process tends to go off-script. We tend to improvise and the result is not always what we plan. On this article published by the American magazine, Real Simple, specialists in grieving give 9 tips about what we shouldn’t say (and what we should say) to a grieving person.
1- What not to say: “How are you doing?”
When you say this, it sounds very impersonal and the person is most likely hearing something different: Something like, “Please tell me you’re doing ok, because it’s uncomfortable if you say you’re not doing well,”. That’s why people faced with this question are more likely to respond with “fine” or “OK,” rather than really communicating their feelings.
What to say: “It must be really tough right now for you.”
“This way you acknowledge that what they’re going through right now is very painful. Don’t underestimate their feelings, let them have the chance to grieve without judgment.
2-What not to say: “They’re in a better place.”
During such a confusing moment, it’s better to be cautious than assuming that belief the griever might believe in life after death, says Brennan. This phrase can also seem to de-emphasize the pain he or she is feeling in the moment. The person is still gone and not with them—and that’s what is hard about loss.
What to say : “I’m sorry you’re suffering.” “Certainly the person is glad [their loved one is] not suffering anymore,” says Brennan, “but it doesn’t make the pain any different.” Focus on the person who is experiencing pain at that moment.
3- What not to say: “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
Everyone reaching out with offers of support can be overwhelming. It also puts the responsibility on the bereaved to reach out for help.
What to say: “I’ll do your shopping, take your kids to school, brining you dinner tonight.“ People are more willing to accept support if it’s specific rather than wide-open offer.
4- What not to say: “You can always…”
If someone loses a partner or a child, and you might tell them that he or she can always get remarried or have another child, thinking that you’re helping them to see the silver lining. But to the bereaved it can sound like you’re suggesting a loved one is replaceable. “This plays on one of the biggest fears: that they will somehow forget that person and that they’ll not be as important in their life in the future”.
What to say: “Tell me about your loved one.” When dealing with the present pain of loss, it can be hard to look towards a future that’s full of unknowns. Help to focus on the memories by asking specific questions and being an active listener.
5 -What not to say: “I know how you feel.”
Though everyone will at some time experience loss, it is an overwhelmingly personal experience. You’re never truly able to know how someone experiences the loss, and claiming that you do can feel invalidating.
What to say: “I can imagine how you’re feeling.” It is always recommended giving the person a chance to identify how he or she feels, rather than speaking for him or her.
6- What not to say: “This all happens eventually”
Everyone does experience death and loss as a part of life, but this perspective might minimize the actual loss at that moment.
What to say: “You must really miss them.”
The loss of a beloved one is likely the source of pain—focus on that, rather than brushing it aside as a non-negotiable aspect of life.
7- What not to say: “She/He would have wanted it this way”
Unless the person planned for his or her funeral, there is no way to know his or her preferences would have been. Speaking for the deceased may invite unnecessary quarrels between friends and relatives, who all have different relationships and views of what the deceased would have deemed appropriate.
What to say: “I’d like to honor them this way.”
Tap into your memories and information about the person, and acknowledge that it symbolizes the relationship you two shared, rather than the whole person.
8- What not to say: “You’re handling this better than I expected.”
The bereaved might just be putting on a happy face. Your surprise might reinforce the idea that he or she shouldn’t be suffering the loss of a beloved one.
What to say: “You might not be feeling great, but that’s ok.”
Let the person have complete freedom to feel how he or she wants—even if time has passed since the loved one’s death, it is comforting to acknowledge that each moment without them is difficult.
9- What not to say: Nothing at all.
Many people never reach out or even mention the name of the deceased person because they’re very uncomfortable.
What to say: “Remember when?”
One of the most helpful things you can do for a grieving person is sharing a memory of his or her beloved one—even if you feel like you’re not in the inner circle. When you talk about something you have shared with the deceased one you’re giving them a perspective on that person that they’d never otherwise get the chance to have and that is very good.