What Not to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

There may come a time in your life when someone close to you experiences a loss, and you will find yourself in a position where you want to comfort them. This is a natural emotion, and kudos to you for wanting to be there and offer support.

However, when trying to comfort someone who is raw with pain, one can quite easily offend, hurt, and possibly make a situation worse by failing to be a good supporter.

How? Well I’m glad you asked.

One of the biggest issues with trying to be comforting and supporting is confusing sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy is understanding that someone is hurting, and offering your support because you feel for the person who is grieving.

“Wow, I really sympathize with Jane. She just lost her job, her car broke down, and she is going though a bad break up.”

I am sympathizing with Jane because I’m upset for her and all the troubling things she is facing.

Empathy is powerful. Empathy is understanding how someone may feel because you too have lived through it.

“John just broke his leg and can’t leave the house for 6 weeks. I empathize with him because I was unable to leave the house after I broke my foot.”

I am able to empathize with John because I too was home bound after breaking something. We share a similar issue due to a similar cause.

You may find yourself asking why I’m offering an English lesson when speaking about grief. The answer is that far too many people try to empathize when they are not in a position to do so.

Which leads me to the subject if this post:

What Not to Say
to Someone Who is Grieving

1.) “I know how you feel.”

Just removed this phrase from your vocabulary. It is in no way helpful, comforting, and I guarantee, it will never be true. Each person’s grief is so personal and unique, that there is no way you could feel the same pain as someone else.

Lets use myself as an example. On the surface, I lost my sibling. Lots of people have lost siblings. However, grief is in the details:

  • I lost my sister
  • I lost my younger sister
  • I lost my younger sister suddenly
  • I lost my younger sister suddenly in an accident
  • I lost my younger sister suddenly in an accident a few weeks before my birthday
  • I lost my younger sister suddenly in an accident a few weeks before my birthday whom I was close with
  • And so on…

Now, before you tell me that you “know how I feel,”  I ask you this- did you experience a loss with the same details as mine? No? That’s what I thought.

2.) “But you still have [remaining family member].”

If you have a pair of flip flops, and a pair of high heels, and loose the flip flops, you can’t just start wearing the high heels to replace the flip flops. So why would you say the same thing about loosing a person?

I lost my sister, but I still have my brother. Telling me “But you still have a brother.” is not helpful. These are completely two different people with different roles in my life, and truth be told, Jim will never let me dye and curl his hair (at least I don’t think he will).

I think this is even more of an issue when this is said to a grieving parent. Saying to a Mother or Father “But you still have other children.” is just gut wrenching. Just, don’t say this. Ever.

3.) “You’re still upset?”

Hell yes I’m still upset! You can’t put a timeline on grief, and you most certainly will never get “over it.” Everyone grieves at their own pace, but there is still no finish line or event to pin point when you’re done grieving. Grieving is learning how to live your life with part of it missing. Asking someone if they’re still upset shows that you are applying your own fictitious timeline onto someone else. It doesn’t get easier, we just get strong.

Well friends, I do hope that if you should find yourself in a situation where a loved one needs comforting, you feel confident in doing so, and that you can bring some warmth and happiness into their lives, if even for a brief moment.





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