Providing ComfortWhen someone in your social circle loses a loved one, it’s natural to feel for that individual. As such, you may want to say something to provide comfort. Yet in your efforts to help alleviate the sorrow, you could inadvertently say the wrong thing and come across as thoughtless. To avoid this outcome and help your friend, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

Paltry Platitudes and Caustic Comments

When a friend or loved one is grieving, words can soothe and support. On the other hand, some comments aren’t very helpful at all. Author David Kessler lists several examples of common verbal blunders in a Grief.com article:

  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “God wanted that person to be with Him.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “It was his/her time to go.”
  • “At least he/she lived a long life. Many people die young.”
  • “That person brought this on himself/herself.”
  • “You can remarry/have other children.”

What’s Your Grief, Medium contributor Chloe Condon, Ravishly’s Jenni Berrett, and Self writer Anne Roderique-Jones add a few more to this list. “God never gives us more than we can handle” is one typical offender, but others include “You need to be strong,” “It could be worse,” or “You can always get another pet” to someone who’s lost an animal companion. Meanwhile, some questions could also be unpleasant. Common faux pas include asking how the death occurred or why a bereaved isn’t crying.

What’s Wrong With These Words?

Some unhelpful comments are overused clichés, while others are blatantly tactless. Remarks that someone’s “in a better place” or that the person’s passing was “God’s plan” are insensitive for several reasons. First, they assume that the grieving individual believes in a supreme deity. For those who do follow spiritual paths, such words can further deepen already existing crises of faith. Whether or not the deceased caused his or her own fate, saying so isn’t wise. This type of blaming statement can sound particularly caustic to someone feeling a deep sense of loss.

Yet other remarks seem innocent on the surface while wounding just as much as empty platitudes. “I know how you feel” is useless unless you’ve actually had the same experience. Statements that emphasize remarrying, suggest having more kids or pets, or call attention to the deceased’s long life tend to gloss over the sorrow that the bereaved feels.

How do we fall into these verbal traps? When someone’s in distress over the death of a loved one, we may feel a desire to “fix” that individual. In another blog post, What’s Your Grief explains that verbal faux pas can result from attempting comfort, engaging in “troubles talk,” or being uneasy around grief. “Troubles talk” may try to convey trustworthiness and empathy, but statements like “I know how you feel” can sound self-centered or dismissive.

What Can I Say Instead?  

It’s important to understand that you can’t remove a grieving person’s pain. Rather, it’s better to let bereaved friends know that you’re there and leave the door open for them to receive help when they need it. If you find yourself struggling for words, The Spruce’s Debby Mayne discusses helpful things to say. “I’m sorry for your loss” and “You’re in my thoughts” are great examples, but you can also share positive memories and traits of the deceased.

Grief can leave us at a loss for words, even if we’re not the one who’s had a friend or family member die. Trying to take away a bereaved individual’s sorrow is futile, and you risk saying something that triggers feelings of anger or alienation. The best you can do is offer support, which can come in many forms, to help the other person cope and heal.

Category: Loss

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