Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved

Do Not Say

Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved

By Jenny Mertes

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.

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.”

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.”

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.”

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Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved


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.


Top 8 Things to Never Say to the Bereaved

Tongue-tied? 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.

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