Things Not to Say to My Grieving Friend Sam
It’s ok if people think we’re crazy.
Grief is a solitary journey.
And it changes us and confuses many people around us (mostly because grief is very misunderstood in our society).
Time will not heal this gaping hole in my heart.
Image: jillyspoon via Flickr
My friend, Sam, said good-bye to his sister this weekend. She died after a battle with cancer. Her newborn grandchild died just a few short months ago and another grandchild is critically ill after complications from a bone marrow transplant. Sam’s father died nearly a year ago. And while I didn’t quite know what to say to him, I absolutely knew what NOT to say to my friend who has suffered tremendous loss in his family over the past year.
I knew because I have learned much from the things people have said to us during our grief journey.
People can and will cause more pain with the things they say after a loss. When someone you care about is grieving, please don’t minimize that grief by just spouting out words.
Sit quietly with your grieving friend.
Appreciate the silence.
Because silent love is sometimes the very best love.
And words have power.
And once spoken, they will linger.
If you must speak, I urge you to carefully contemplate your words and pray for guidance.
And never –- NEVER -- say these things.
(Because people said them to us and it gave us no comfort and sometimes caused more pain.)
10 Things Not to Say to People Who Are Grieving
- "They are in a better place."
Depending on your beliefs, this may very well be true, but that statement will NOT make them feel better. Grief is about the ones who are left behind mourning the loss of that loved one.
- "They aren’t suffering anymore."
This offers little condolence. Whatever the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering.
- "It was their time to go."
Obviously, it was their time or they would still be here. And just because it is their time does not mean it doesn’t hurt terribly.
- "Everything happens for a reason."
Do not use this cliché!! Really? This is like reading someone’s T-shirt, for goodness' sake! Speak from your heart, and if you don’t know what to say -- say, "I don’t know what to say."
- "God never gives you more than you can handle."
Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle and they only get through it with God. Don't trivialize someone's grief with a "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" mentality.
- "Sometimes God has to get your attention."
We actually had a pastor (not ours) say this to us -– as if Zack’s death was caused by something we had done. Grief is sometimes accompanied with much guilt. Don’t cause more guilt by spouting out words to try to explain why something happened.
- "Time will ease your pain."
Time will pass; we all know that. But saying this overused statement or something like “this too shall pass” does not bring comfort to the present moment of deep hurt. Just be real. Be you. Don’t grasp some statement out of the air. (But just so you know, the pain is always there, because the missing is always there. It just becomes more like a dull ache rather than a fresh, raw cut.)
- "Let me know if you need anything."
Don’t ask! If you REALLY want to help, just show up and do something. Grievers are most likely NOT going to call and ask for help. Encourage your friend to have a list of chores, errands that need to be done so when people ask, they have something concrete to give them. People want to help but often feel helpless and helping your friend compose a list will give others something helpful to do that will make a difference. And DO NOT leave a voice mail or a text saying "I’m here if you need me." If you are HERE, then be HERE. Show up at the front door! Don’t throw messages out and fail to follow through. BE THERE.
- "I know how you feel."
Even if you have experienced a similar loss, you have NO IDEA how someone else feels. And never forget: This moment is not about you and any loss you have suffered -- it is about your friend and the deep pain they are feeling at this moment. When we bring the focus to ourselves, we are leaving our friend in a very real way. AND absolutely do not compare their loss to your recent loss of a pet. Pets -- I get it -- are very much a part of the family, but equating the loss of your pet to the death of a child, mother, father, sister etc. cuts to the core.
- "We may not understand it, but this was God’s will."
Unless you are God, DO NOT use this line.
Grief has many side effects. Be a blessing to all who are grieving this day.
Be a friend.
If you have any things to add to this list, please leave it in the comments below so we can all know what NOT to say to those who are grieving.