Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved
When you're trying to comfort a bereaved friend, words don't always come easily. Sometimes your heart is in the right place, but your words...well, they may do more harm than good. Take it from someone who's been there, some clichés are better left unsaid.
1. It was a blessing
From whose perspective? It's not yours to judge. A comment like this should come only from the bereaved person, and a heartfelt "You are so brave" or a similar response is all that's needed.
2. He is no longer suffering
You might get away with using these phrases when someone's pet has died, but they are cold comfort to the person who's experiencing a loved one's loss. If it's a close friend, saying, "It must have been so hard to see her suffer," or "I'm so sorry you didn't get to say goodbye" shows more understanding.
3. I know how you feel
Often the next sentence is something like, “My beloved Fido died last week.” Even if the friend lost a spouse and you did too, you still can’t possibly know how she feels. Acknowledge that her feelings are as unique as she is. “I can’t begin to know how you feel, but I’m here to listen” is far more comforting.
4. You have to be strong for...
The bereaved person needs time to grieve, and if grieving involves periods of being a weepy mess, that’s okay. It’s better to offer to help out with the kids so your friend can have that freedom.
5. God won't give you more than you can handle
Right now, your friend probably thinks this is far more than he can handle, and your platitudes aren’t helping. Specific offers of help are better: “If you find that you can’t handle [mowing your lawn] [grocery shopping] [taking the kids to Little League], please call me so I can help. Here’s my number.”
6. Everything happens for a reason
As nice as this sounds, it simply isn’t true; tragedies large and small often have no rhyme or reason. Even if the reason becomes clear after a while, leave it to the bereaved to come to that conclusion. Right now, it’s fine to just say, “I sure don’t understand God’s reasons behind this, but if you want to talk about how you’re feeling, please call me.”
7. You have plenty of time for more....
Ouch. Do you really think that’s on his mind at the moment? Give your friend months or years to decide whether it would be okay to think about having another spouse or another child. If you must say something, it’s always okay to say, “No matter how young a person is, losing a beloved spouse/child is a terrible tragedy. I’m so sorry.”
8. It was her time
Apparently it was, but your reminder of our mortality won’t be welcome. Your friend undoubtedly wanted far more time with the deceased than he was allotted. Instead, “Her time on this earth was far too short, and she will be sorely missed” conveys your understanding and sympathy.
A simple, wordless hug or double-handed handshake (gripping their hand with both of yours) will say everything that is necessary until you can get your thoughts together and make a follow-up call. Or write a note offering a favorite memory of the deceased. Those written memories are welcomed, cherished, and often passed down to later generations.
Other Great Reads
Interview: Digital Dying spoke with Taryn Davis, whose husband, Michael, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. She founded the American Widow Project.
nterview: Journalist Justin Nobel interviewed Eric Coble, who wrote Velocity of Autumn, a play about an aging Brooklyn mother who rebels against her children's decision to put her in a nursing home.
Digital Dying spoke with Harry Schleiff, a New York City based video producer who worked on the film about the surprisingly poetic language of death row inmates.
A look inside New York City's Marble Cemetery, which is home to a whale oil tycoon, a revolutionary war hero, a swashbuckling Mayan archaeologist, and military-grade C-4 explosives.