Words You Shouldn't Say to a Grieving Person

22 July, 2020
Would you like to know what words don't help a grieving person? Stick around to find out.

Have you ever tried to vent with someone but ended up comforting them? Also, have you ever felt you simply needed to be heard but weren’t? Have you experienced a lack of attention when you truly needed it? Today’s article will give you some helpful strategies so you won’t be the one who makes these mistakes with others. Everyone must know what not to say to a grieving person.

An attentive ear, empathy, and love for one another are all important references when it comes to helping someone who’s grieving. Be it death or abandonment, the main problem is there’s now a void where a person used to be.

How to help a grieving person

Words can be like double-edged blades; they can either hurt or heal. They can lighten or add weight to the emotional load of those who use or listen to them. Words liberate but can also turn against anyone who either pronounces them or listens to them. As you can see, words can create opportunities or condemn; save you or sink you further.

A distressed woman.

Words aren’t gone with the wind

Just as some words can help another, some leave a toxic residue and don’t help at all. Alba Payás, an expert in mourning and loss, lists some of the phrases that don’t help a person who’s grieving in her book El Mensaje de las Lágrimas (In English: The Message of Tears). Among them:

  • You have to be strong.
  • Try to distract yourself.
  • Time will heal everything.
  • They’re in a better place.
  • Now you can help other parents, siblings, children, etc.
  • You’re young! Surely you’ll recover! You can get married again, have other children…
  • Just remember the good times.
  • This experience will make you a better person.
  • The children are still young, they won’t remember anything.
  • I know how you feel … my … died …
  • And now that your children are older…
  • Luckily, you can have more children; some parents only have one…
  • Concentrate on your other children…
  • How did they die?
  • How old were they?

Comfort

A person who suffers doesn’t care about being strong at this moment. They simply need to collect themselves and heal their wounds while integrating the loss. They can’t distract from it, their mind is full of memories, but also on the absence itself. The impossibility of the company of their loved one, the missing chance to say goodbye, the uncertainty about their future… they might be experiencing fear. This is because the ones who left may have been their strongest emotional and financial support. They might, in fact, be wondering if they’ll be able to survive on their own.

How can the buses and the subway continue to function when everything else stopped? A grieving person has to negotiate with a deep wound in a world that’s indifferent to it. (Some might simulate, but are indifferent to it deep down inside). Nobody knows if the person who left suffered or is suffering, but the suffering of those who remain is quite evident.

Respect

It might seem funny, but respect is perhaps what’s most appreciated during times like these. It seldom distorts the silence a person experiences in the form of emptiness when someone goes away. So offer your company and be there when they need you. Let them know they can count on you and truly mean it. Be there beyond the wake and the funeral. Stay when the rest leave and be available for the beginning of the next stage: the process of healing.

Everyone’s suffering is personal, they do it in their own way, and by shedding their own tears. Insensitive words will only distance you from that person, there’s little neutral communication on these occasions. A gesture of affection or a welcoming silence is often the best way to comfort someone. Meaningless words only create distance and can even hurt.

A man comforting a woman.

Tears are important for a grieving person

“Let them out, Lucia,” said her grandmother out of nowhere.

“What?”

“The tears! Sometimes, it seems that there are so many and you feel like you’re going to drown in them, but you won’t.”

“Do you think they’ll stop coming out some day?”

“Of course!” answered her grandmother with a sweet smile. “Tears don’t stay too long; they do their job and then proceed to be on their way.”

“And what’s their job?”

“They’re water, Lucia! They cleanse, they purify… like the rain. Everything looks different after the rain. Only the rain knows why.”

-María Fernanda Heredia-

Finally, know that tears are liberating, they allow you to flow and clean you deep inside. Allowing grieving people to cry is also a personal job, the same as allowing them to be sad or silent. You have to be patient. What needs to come out should come out. Thus, if you don’t have the power to comfort another with your words, then simply listen to them. As great as a loss might be, there’ll come a time when the grieving person will begin to look around them again, even if it’s only for an instant. They’ll feel great to have you around and be able to count on you.