7 Things Not To Say To The Grieving

19762015_sMy family and I just recently suffered the loss of my dad.  During the days following his death, we were comforted by all the kind words that were spoken in an effort to encourage us.  But not everyone has the same experience.  I’ve stood at the head of many caskets through the years and I’ve heard many comments made to grieving families that made me cringe.  Like Job’s friends, they would have served as better comforters if they would have just remained silent.

This post is designed to simply offer some suggestions that may allow us to comfort the grieving, rather than adding unnecessary pain to their grief.  Below are 7 things not to say to those who are grieving.

  1. I understand exactly how you feel.  You cannot know that to be true.  The fact that you may have suffered the same relational loss, doesn’t mean the depth of your loss is the same.  Simply saying, “I’m sorry” is a lot more honest than, “I understand exactly how you feel.”
  2. It was God’s will.  We should not affirm what we do not know.  Some things in life happen by chance; at least that’s what Jesus said (Luke 10:31).
  3. God must have needed another angel in heaven.  First of all, people don’t become angels when they die.  Second, to suggest that God took this person from his children/parents/spouse because he needed him paints God with a rather selfish stroke and can lead to resentment.  Why would God need this person more than his family needed him?
  4. Now, now, don’t cry.  Why not?  Why would we encourage a person to suppress their grief.  Crying is not only a human response to grief, but it’s healthy.
  5. If you need anything, just let me know.  This is really an empty statement that may salve our conscience, but does little to help a person.  Rarely will a person volunteer a need to such a statement.  A more useful statement would be, “What do you want me to do to help?”  or “Would you rather have me do this or that for you?”
  6. At least you’re young and can have more children/or marry again.  As insensitive as this sounds, I’ve heard it said to grieving parents on numerous occasions.  We’re not talking about the loss of a family pet that can be replaced, but an irreplaceable member of the family.
  7. It’s better this way.  Says who?  To many survivors, the sacrifices they would be required to make would be well worth it if they could have their loved one back.

Please do your best to avoid these empty and potentially hurtful comments.  If you struggle for words to say, then may I suggest the following.

  1. I’m sorry.
  2. I’m praying for you.
  3. I love you.

Your words aren’t going to “fix” anything, so don’t try.  They should simply be spoken to express your love and concern.  May we learn to comfort others the way that God comforts us (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

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Comments 17

  • Excellent Steve, so very needed with the love you wrote with. Thank you.
    May God continue to bless you in his Kindgom,
    Darlene McKinley

  • Well written Steve… and so true. When I tell people to call me if they need anything, they know I mean it. If I don’t say it, it’s because I don’t know them that well. But, your point is well taken!!

  • Steve…spot on; well done and to the point. I’ve expressed similar views over the years from hearing and experiencing the same. May this encourage and perfect us onward in comfort.

  • Steve, this is excellent. Thanks brother.

  • Steve, great job as always!! Thoughts that are much needed.

  • So sorry to hear of the passing of your dad. You and your family are in our prayers.

  • Just this past the only words I could say to parents who had just lost their last son was. “What can one say?”

  • Excellent article.As preachers we ought to know how to respond when death shows up. Keith Mosher Sr. has a grief seminar, he does a superb job in going over these points and further more since he has studies in Thanatology I believe.

    I think that in one of his seminars he also said that saying “I’m sorry” can make the one who suffers upset. Because if you say so it makes it sound that it was your fault. He also point out that the funeral is not necessarily the hardest part but rather the days that are about to come, that is when we really need to be there for them.

  • Can’t be said often enough – people don’t remember when the situation arises. Regarding #5, my advice is don’t offer anything, just show up at the house and start washing dishes, cooking, or whatever is needed. Regarding the “struggling for words”: that’s the best time to say nothing. A hug or a sincere handshake will do far more to comfort than anything that can be said by any but the closest and dearest family and friends. As a preacher I’ve been on the comforting side over 100 times, and have had to learn from experience. I am bereft of a brother, a father, a son and a wife, so I have been on that side too often also. The procession at my son’s “visitation” was over 3 hours long. The people who gave me the most comfort were those who spoke only of how they knew him, or simply gave me a knowing look and a sincere handshake. It has often (but not often enough) been said, “When you don’t know what to say, that’s the time to say nothing at all.”

  • Excellent and much needed information, Steve. God bless your work!

  • This is true w/ grief of any sort. Not just death. So many of these things were said to us when my husband lost his eye sight.

    Right up there w/: God has a reason….

    Me saying some of these things to myself in my head is one thing, but coming from people who have no stinking clue, it’s quite irritating and instantly make me prefer the company of just about anyone else.

  • When our 36 year old son died of a massive heart attack the worst comments came from the ministry. The most sincere statements came from his friends who said, “I can’t imagine your pain.” and “I miss him so much but your missing must be tenfold.” Ministers gave me books on grieving that were hollow and most advised not to “blame GOD.” All were shallow and hollow. Jason was a musician and his musician buddies knew best how to express their loss and as a consequence ours. One friend wrote and recorded a song and gave it to us. Parents who had also lost a child just hugged us and listened when we talked. His aunts, uncles and cousins as well as his sister shared our grief and helped by sharing stories about Jason and the fun things that they had done together.

  • I really do not think we should even think about criticizing someone for attempting to express grief. Is there really a right or wrong thing to say? My Dad just passed away and I do not recall measuring ever condolence offered. Are we that blinded by “correctness” that we must watch every turn-of-a-phrase?

  • Just don’t say anything, then no hurt feelings!!!!!

  • Debra, I agree that sometimes people who are grieving are just too sensitive. I can tell you some stories that have happened in my presence over the past 30 years. However, here’s the point. We can tell a grieving person to “lighten up,” or we can help instruct comforters to be more sensitive. All things considered, I think we’ll have much more success with the latter than the former. When people are enveloped in grief, they’re often far more sensitive and emotional, and little things that normally wouldn’t bother them do bother them under the strain of grief. Hope that helps.

  • Thank you so much. I have made some of those comments with such earnest feelings but I can see where it didn’t make them feel better. This has been very helpful and I will share it with others.

  • Why don’t we try a more biblical means of consoling the grieving? Is there something wrong with the words Jesus spoke to Martha? “Your brother will rise again.” It’s interesting to me that Jesus didn’t tell Martha her brother was ‘already in heaven” or “in a better place.”

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