8 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Who’s Grieving

I am taking a break from the usual Swedish madness to get something off my chest. First and foremost though, I have this blog to thank for helping me slowly move forward.

It has been nine months since my mom passed away. I do not miss her any less and I do not feel like I have moved on either.  I may have come out of the dark, winter basket, but my real feelings are in a laundry basket; waiting to be sorted out.

I do not have many friends to talk about this; I doubt many would in this situation. A couple close friends have been a great rock for me. But all in all, most friends that I used to hang out with, I do not anymore.  And I do not feel the need because most of the time I fail at making small talk.

Like the overly awkward conversation from an acquaintance who was “so sorry! but it’s important to discuss our emotions and not bottle them up!” I never saw her again and she never contacted me either.

When all the world feel apart, I somehow had this movie feeling fantasy of how friends would take care of me.   Friends stopping by, bringing ice cream (actually, it did happen once with a very wonderful friend), ensuring I can get myself out of bed and dressed, taking me out to do things, crying with me.

That did not happen. The friends that I expected would be my rock disappeared and couple friends I was close to but not best, became rocks for me.   Still, crying sessions were me hiding the under covers wishing I could see my mom one last time.

In all the grieving, I have heard some amazing things and some incredibly stupid things.  They may not sound stupid at first glance, but to a person who is grieving, these words sound like fingernails scratching a chalkboard.

Here is my pet peeve list of what not to say.  And now that it is written to the Internets, if I do hear a friend say one of the stupid phrases, I will not speak to them again.

 

1. “I’m so sorry I wish I could help.”
The combination of ‘sorry’ and ‘help’ comes off as superficial. You CAN help. Listen to me when I talk, cry with me, call me when you think I’m about to fall off Earth. Your wishing you could help is a way for you to offer false sincerity without needing to follow up.

 

2. “Omg, I’m so sorry!!! I’m so sorry.”
Americans love their clichés and their favorite is “I’m so sorry.” You cannot equate “I’m so sorry, I forgot to help you get the bags out of the car” to “I’m so sorry that your mother died!”

Be a little more creative than the status quo and say something of substance so your friend in grieving understands that you care.

 

3. “I know {exactly} how you feel.”
I have said this as well and until last year, I did not realize how stupid it sound. You are forgiven for saying it but please don’t put the spotlight on you and become the center of attention over your dead goldfish.

No, you do not know how I feel. You are not in my brain and you do not know my family.

 

4. “Let me know if you need anything (or call me if you need to talk).”
I heard this a LOT. Nearly everyone. The fact is, a grieving person does not know what they want and many times, do not have the energy to make that call. We feel an added burden to put someone else directly into our problems. And we are not sure if this is another “I’m sorry” cliché or something a friend meant.

It works both ways that a friend may not know if it is appropriate to call the grieving soul, but let me assure you, call. Call your friend who suffered a tragic loss. Call them and help them. Just do not call them and say anything on this list!

Plus, a grieving person will not call you. A good friend should know that loss is a life changing event and should check up on their grieving friend. Not the other way around. I should not have to call every person on my list to find someone who will talk to me for five minutes today, another person who will talk ten minutes tomorrow, and so on.

 

5. “You’ll get over it; it takes time.”
Thank you Captain Obvious for that idiotic statement. I will never get over “it.” “It” is Death. Death leaves am imprint on everyone it touches and takes away from us.

Of course it takes time to heal. The scars will always be there but they will heal. When, who knows. If those around a grieving person understand, the process moves faster. If not, then the grieving person has to fend for themselves.

 

6. “You’re so lucky you have a loving husband/wife to take care of you.”
Another obvious statement but where the person who says this can shift all responsibility they have as a friend to the spouse. I understand you’re trying to be consoling and point out that if I was alone life would really truly suck. But at least with a husband/wife it is a bit easier.

Sure, I may have a loving husband but that doesn’t mean he can sit all day with me crying. He needs support too. He also lost someone.

Plus, just because a husband/wife is loving doesn’t mean they are experts in grief counseling. They may support a depressed, grieving wife/husband but they may not be able to deal with it either.

 

7. “I love you! Just been thinking about you!” {via email or fly by facebook chat}
Facebook and social networks have turned people into socially incompetent idiots. People write whatever they think without using an inkling of common sense.

I receive a few mails with the above quoted. Nothing else except a bunch of hearts and exclamation points. I know the person was trying to be sweet but one would think a 5-yr-old wrote it, not a 30-yr-old.

Americans are found of the “I love you” phrase. You can have endless debates when you should say the three magical words to someone you actually love but you use it like toilet papper with friends. It serves a purpose for a split second but is quickly flushed away, never to return.

 

8. ” … ” {Not saying anything at all}
There were a few friends I saw a few months after my mom’s passing. They never said anything. I felt so awkward because I was pretty sure they knew but there were no condolences given.

But the problem was, some of them asked bizarre questions like “Oh how was your summer?!” or “It’s been a while, so good to see you, what’s new?”

I was perplexed. Did they know? Not know? Everyone else at that party, knew. What about them?

To say the least, don’t make a grieving person feel more self conscious and out of place if you know about their loss but fail to mention it. The best thing to do would be to pull the person aside and say something along the lines of, “I know this isn’t appropriate to say at a party but since I have not seen you since your mom’s passing I want to give you my condolences.”

In my situation, the only thing I could say was “Summer was nice.”

 

There were many friends whom despite me having little contact with them over the past decades, sent me beautiful emails and messages. There were so many stories of my mom shared to me. I had either not known or forgotten the stories that I was swept away. She had an impact on many people and they cared for the ‘friend’s mom’.

And I had a couple special friends who found out immediately and helped us with packing, traveling, and coming home. They are rocks.

There are ways to comfort a grieving a friend/family member. Please take this seriously if you are a friend/family of a grieving person. We need a lot of love at this time and believe it or not, you, the friend, are probably much more important person in your grieving friend’s life than you may think.

Love. love. love.

I will try to think of a list of things to say for next time.

12 thoughts on “8 Things You Should Never Say To Someone Who’s Grieving”

  1. Last year my dad passed away. It was totally unexpected and I really couldn´t believe my dad had died, for months. Sometimes I thought I was living a dream, waiting to wake up.
    My mom is so depressed she doesn´t want to live anymore. My boyfriend tries to be supportive but I think he doesn´t know how to handle the situation.
    I have very close friends but I guess they don´t know how to behave.
    Anyway, even if I felt the way you describe in this post, now I don´t want to talk about it anymore: I think people don´t understand why I didn´t get over it since it´s more than a year from my dad´s passing. I get it: my grieving is only mine and I don´t want to bother anyone.
    And yes, I have said some of the statements of your list to people who were grieving in the past. I only understood how stupid they sound when it was me the one who was grieving!
    I don´t think there is anything I can say to make you feel better but anyway I´ll say to you what I keep repeting to myself: we won´t be sad forever; we will be happy again sometime.

  2. My condolences to you and your family. My question is, what should we say then?

  3. I think its more about following through and that actions speak louder than words. If you say something about helping or listening then reach out again and make it happen. Understand that its a process and that they will need to be checked up on again, not just the one “Sorry to hear” time, and never mentioned again.

  4. Me no different.
    Just don’t become a recluse.
    That’s not you
    You are talking, walking, running and flying chirpy bird.
    Keep Flying.

  5. @CaféOlé – I am so sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. I’ve said many of the things above and realized how stupid it sounded later on.

    I have a couple friends that worked on special little projects to help them deal with their grief but make something that can last a long time. For example, I’ve been working on a cookbook of all the recipes my mom wrote. Another friend made a photo album to show her soon-to-be baby. Maybe there’s something you and your mom can work on together that will be in honor of your dad.

    And when I think about ever losing my husband, I probably would be frozen with grief for a long time. I wouldn’t know where to start to put myself together again.

    Sending you much comfort and warm vibes to move day by day.

    I think Megalagom said it perfectly: “I think its more about following through and that actions speak louder than words. If you say something about helping or listening then reach out again and make it happen. Understand that its a process and that they will need to be checked up on again, not just the one “Sorry to hear” time, and never mentioned again.”

    Whatever you say, do it too.

  6. The 3rd point is the worst of the lot.No one is going to know how you feel except yourself

  7. Hey, no words can heal your pain.
    But think about this song:

    I Dreamed A Dream by Elaine Paige

    I dreamed a dream in time gone by
    When hope was high and life worth living
    I dreamed that love would never die
    I dreamed that God would be forgiving

    Then I was young and unafraid
    And dreams were made and used and wasted
    There was no ransom to be paid
    No song unsung, no wine untasted

    But the tigers come at night
    With their voices soft as thunder
    As they tear your hopes apart
    And they turn your dream to shame

    Still I dream he’d come to me
    That we would live the years together
    But there are dreams that cannot be
    And there are storms we cannot weather

    I had a dream my life would be
    So different from this hell I’m living
    So different now from what it seemed
    Now life has killed the dream I dreamed

  8. My mom died a little over a year and a half ago, after a prolonged illness. In a great many ways, I was relieved that she was gone, as she wasn’t suffering anymore, and all of that lot. It was easy for me to tell people that I was ok with it, and that things were better this way, AND in a way things are better this way. However, there are just some things that moms can say, some universal mommy speak, that lets you know that everything will be ok. That, that is what I miss most, plus her taking 30 minutes to tickle my back, since at 5’8 and 30+ years of age, I was and am too big to crawl into her lap, and have her tell me it was all ok, even if it wasn’t. My mom wasn’t the greatest parent, she had her vices, but still, she was my mom, and I love her dearly. Yesterday, my sister, the older, wiser, and stoic, sister/parent sent me a text asking me if I ever thought about wanting to talk to our mom, and then remembering that you can’t… kinda sucks. It sucks a lot.

    By no means do I mean to be morose, or melancholy, but I have determined that getting over a parent is not something that is easily said, or easily done. I spent the better part of my 20s coasting along, being in love, and not really giving a damn about one thing or another. Now, I have questions about everything, questions that mom can’t answer, hell no one can answer them but me. Anyway, I could ramble on all day, but I had to say this..

    Amanda :)

  9. @Amanda – Thank you for sharing.

    There really are some things a mom says/does that only they can do. And I too miss my mom’s rubs…she gaves the best head massage to cure a headache and arm rub to soothe my joints.

    That easy going spirit is not easily found anymore…

    Thanks for stopping by and I do hope you read the blog and continue to comment.

  10. Hi, I do hope things are getting better now, I am grateful about your investment to help us all understand what big difference our words and more important, our actions could make to a friend in grieving. I admire you for taking the opportunity to choose your real friends and forget about the others. In similar circumstances I have feared too much remaining with no friends so that I have kept my dissapointment inside. It hurts like hell and I would not advise this to anyone.

  11. I am going to say this out of love having lost a parent very young to cancer (mother) and buried my father one year ago after a horrific 11 battle with various diseases and I am only in my 40’s. Get this: Everyone I know has BOTH parents alive and thriving as I write this. People have told me I talk too much about my loss implying I want endless sympathy, (they got their walking papers and of course, I ran into one six months ago who’s parent is now dying and he said “I had no idea it would feel like this, I have a new respect for your ordeal” – (he’s back in the club) One person told me I was lucky I didn’t lose my dad in his sleep ( I never got to say good-bye, my father was unconscious by the time I got to the hospital barreling thru LA traffic in a shocked state as I did not think he would die like after getting the call from the ambulance) – You have to understand that people are idiots and insensitive, they all grieve differently and we live in a society where it’s shameful to grieve. All I can say is that these same people will be feeling it in a major way when I am finally able to get to a place of acceptance – that’s a nice way of saying I will be relaxing while they are in hell keeping a bedside vigil – people are weird – I met a guy recently who was at Disneyland a week after he buried his mother and never talks about her. But she was also 96 and maybe that has something to do with that weirdness. Whatever……that is not me and I know that is not many of us. It’s natural to feel angry and who the hell cares what anyone thinks – you loved your parent enough to FEEL that level of LOVE and LOSS. You don’t get over it, you get “through” it. It’s a profound loss and you must let go of the anger as hard as that is. It was engulfing me and only compounding my grief. I spent months alone in Europe traveling to get somewhat straight in my head again and I have literally had to get off the phone with such bozos who say stupid things. I feel for you, I am with you in your isolation and frustration at the human race – I so get it. Have you tried a grief group? It helps alot. It will get better, I promise you – I am at one year now – sometimes I see him on his death bed and think how beautiful it was, other times it’s agony remembering his last breath and taking him away from me. Orphaned at 47 years old is what I felt. And then I had to have dinner with people in their 70’s with both parents alive – rare but could only happen to me one week after burying my father – that was super fun – NOT!!!!! That is life – the ecstasy and the agony. I still look at his photo and cry, I still am engulfed with memories and have to pull the car over to sob on occasion but it isn’t daily like it was. Stay strong and talk to your parent out loud, I do it alot. Your parent is with you, watching and waiting to see you again. I promise. And there are compassionate people out there who do feel your pain – I am a stranger and I have walked through it WITH you whether you know it or not! It may help to read how others handled loss. I once had a woman who lost her parent who was trying to comfort me say “Just remember, these fools are NEXT” – not that you want to wish ill on anyone, but honestly, these people are unconscious until it is their turn…..

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