10 Things The Bereaved Don’t Want to Hear

what not to say to someone grieving a lossAwkward as we are around loss, we are equally at a loss for words. So we rush to fill the silence with something, anything. We need to be mindful that the bereaved are people who are walking around without skin. Their pain is raw and real. So if you find yourself stumbling and fumbling when it comes to delivering a condolence, here’s a list of 10 things to avoid.

  1. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe it does. But that’s not comforting to hear when you’re missing the sound of your loved one’s voice and feeling the painful finality that you can never hug him ever again.
  2. God has a plan. We don’t know that. If you’ve said this, it probably reflects your belief system. However, this is not the best time to inflict your beliefs on a person who’s grieving hard. It’s also possible that they don’t believe God has the best plans. They’re mad at God because they feel let down by the Supreme Entity who is supposed to care for his people. Trying to be God’s emissary isn’t the best role when you’re faced with someone’s grief.
  3. God never gives us more than we can handle. Actually, sometimes, it feels like He does. People who are grieving are in the worst season of their lives. They are besieged by fear, anger, intense sadness, and complete confusion. They’re not feeling capable and adequate. To tell them that what they’re going through ‘can be handled’ feels like salt rubbed in a bleeding gash.
  4. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Really?!! Again, the absolute wrong thing to say to someone who is feeling weak, helpless, and frozen in pain. When loss is fresh, a griever feels anything but strong. Strength builds like a muscle over time as they begin to heal.
  5. Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We grieve the people we’re attached to. We grieve hard because we loved hard. But comparing the absence of love to the loss of a loved one sounds cruel to a person who is in pain. Loving and losing are part of life, but suggesting to someone “At least you had love in your life” is not really helpful.
  6. You have your whole life ahead of you. Logical and rational, yes. But the one who’s grieving feels like their world just crashed around them. They feel like they’re in limbo. They want nothing more than for life to go back to what it used to be Before The Loss. It will be a long time before they are ready to look ahead.
  7. Time heals all wounds. If someone grieving a loss can use a Time Machine to fast-forward to “healed and whole again” this may be a useful comment. Unfortunately, the passage through the portal of grief is intensely difficult. Moments feel like years when a mother loses her beloved child, or a wife loses the man she shared the best years of her life with.
  8. It was just their time. Perhaps it was. But it’s really hard to hear those words. The grieving want words of comfort, not a cold assessment of their loved one’s timeline.
  9. I know exactly how you feel. No one knows how someone is feeling. Even if you’ve suffered a similar loss, your grief journey is uniquely different from anyone else’s. Never tell someone that you know how they feel. Allow them the uniqueness of their story and journey.
  10. You have to be strong. The bereaved are flailing for a lifeline to hold on to, because they feel like emotional wrecks. Encouraging them to be strong feels like you haven’t even begun to understand the tremendous pain they’re in. It just feels like extra pressure.

In my next post, I’ll share with you some ideas on what you can say and do to comfort someone who’s grieving a loss.

4 Responses to 10 Things The Bereaved Don’t Want to Hear

  1. Great tips on what not to say to the grieving. A reminder to really think through before offering words of comfort to people who have just lost a loved one. Thanks Uma.

  2. Dear Uma
    Again….your message hits home for me. I think that I must have said all of those words at one time or another to someone who has experienced a loss. I will carry you in my mind the next time I offer my condolences. ~Louise

    • Louise, know that we have all spoken those words out loud with the best of intentions. When we know better, we do better. Blessings.

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