Death remains a topic that many people find difficult to discuss, and when it comes to supporting someone that is grieving some people find it difficult to know what say. For a person that has lost a loved one, they can sometimes find that some friends or family also become more distant, the reason for this often that they simply do not know what to say, and don’t want to risk saying something inappropriate. In this handy guide we cover how to talk to someone that is grieving, discussing both what not to say and what to say.
Everybody grieves differently and depending on the person’s relationship with the deceased knowing what to say can be difficult. There is no one size fits all approach, and oftentimes you will need to be open and adaptable, taking ques from the individual. The best thing you can offer someone that is grieving is a listening ear and time and space to talk if they want to. Recognising that you can’t ‘fix’ their grief or take their pain away, and simply listening and acknowledging their pain can go a long way toward supporting a person that is grieving.
5 Things Not To Say To Someone That is Grieving
How are you?
In UK culture asking how people are is a standard opening line in many conversations, however, the required answer is ‘I’m ok’ or ‘I’m fine’. As a rule, people don’t want to hear that everything is not ok, and thus forcing people into answering as per accepted culture.
Instead, it would be better to acknowledge that a person is suffering. Opening with ‘I know it is difficult for you right now’ allows the bereaved to express their feelings and provides an opening for them to discuss their feelings if they want to.
They’re in a better place
Saying that the deceased ‘is in a better place’ is a phrase that may fit with your belief system, but it may be offensive to others. Saying this can minimise the grief that is felt by the deceased loved ones. Acknowledging that their loved one is gone and that they miss them is a better approach.
Implying a Loved One Can Be Replaced
Using words such as you can always remarry or have another baby, or that you’ll now have time to do X, Y, or Z, or similar phrases implies that the deceased can be replaced. A fear of those that are grieving is that they will forget their loved one, and such phrases reinforce this.
Instead, don’t avoid the topic, many people that are grieving crave the opportunity to talk about their loved one, but don’t due to fear of making other people uncomfortable. Inviting discussion about the person that has died can help the person that is grieving to process their feelings.
Everyone Dies Eventually
Yes, death is an inevitable consequence of life. However, to a person that is grieving saying that it would have happened eventually is minimising the person’s right to feel sadness. Acknowledging their feelings and allowing them space to discuss their feelings without judgement is a better way to speak to a person that is grieving.
I Know How You Feel
You may think that expressing that you understand how someone feels is a kind thing to do, but we all grieve differently. You may have also lost someone close, but your experience and feelings will likely be completely different. It is better to show empathy toward the situation while allowing the person that is grieving to express their feelings. It can be tempting to talk about your own experience in a bid to avoid uncomfortable silences and to keep conversation flowing, however, allowing time and space for the other person to speak is a kinder approach.
Talking To A Grieving Person
The most important thing that you can do for a grieving person is to talk to them, avoiding a person that is grieving in a bid not to say the wrong thing is the worst thing that you can. Be mindful of how they are feeling, be empathetic, and allow them the space to share their feelings in a supportive and non-judgemental environment. Simply being there and giving your time to listen is the greatest gift that you can give to a person that is grieving. It is also important to acknowledge that sometimes, people will just want to be alone at that time. Take the que and allow them their space, but do check in regularly and let me know that you are available to listen if and when they are ready to talk.