5 Things Not To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

what not to say to someone who is grieving

Grief. It’s such a strange emotion. I think we all believe we have an idea of how it must feel from portrayals in movies and books, but in reality I don’t think we can understand the complexities of grief until we’ve been through it ourselves.

I have been constantly surprised this year about how grief has made me feel. I’ve experienced emotions that have been totally new and alien to me, and have been frustrated by how up and down this journey has been.

Because of how difficult it can be to understand the process of grief, I have also been privy to a lot of comments that have left me reeling. A little while ago, hearing these things left me feeling frustrated, upset and downright lonely, but now I can understand that despite not always seeming like it, they often came from a place of love.

It’s human nature to want to help when we see our friends and family hurting, and I can see now that the words that may have felt like a dagger to me when I was at my most heartbroken, were often meant to be a source of comfort.

So as someone who has not only been through the mill with grief in the last year, but has seen my entire family go through it too, I thought I’d share 5 things not to say to someone who is grieving…

What not to say to someone who is grieving

1) Time is a great healer

I think this has been my number 1 most frustrating thing to hear this year and I blame movies entirely for this being such a gigantic grief cliche. It’s the least comforting thing you can say to someone who is grieving for so many reasons. Firstly, when you have lost someone who is such a special part of your life, there is no amount of time that can make the loss easier. If anything, it only gets harder with time, as you miss them more and are constantly wondering “what would they be like now?” or “how would life be different if they were still here?”. You start to make new memories without them and feel constantly guilty about it. Also, quite often when that person is someone you love very much, you almost don’t want to feel better because while the grief is painful, it helps you stay connected to them.

2) You’ll get through this, you’re so strong

I know I’ve definitely been guilty of saying this to people in the past before I had experienced grief myself, and I can understand that it is supposed to be encouraging and hopeful, but when you already feel so vulnerable, it can be a huge pressure. Grief can make you feel like someone has ripped a layer of your skin off and then ran you over, and the added weight of having to appear strong or like you’re holding it together can make you feel like the loneliest person in the world. Instead, just let the person know that you love them, and that you are there for them and that they can call or text anytime they need anything.

3) Just think of all the happy memories you’ve made

This is another phrase that I can understand comes from a good place, but can be oh so painful to hear when you’re the person who is grieving. It almost feels like your emotions are being undermined in some way – that you don’t deserve to feel so upset because you were lucky enough to have so many happy memories together. Also, it’s a fairly stupid thing to say because from the second that person has passed, ALL you can think about is them and the things they said or did as you try to burn those memories onto your brain. I’ve felt so scared that I would in some way forget Blossom that I still make myself replay every conversation we ever had everyday for fear of forgetting them.

4) Everything happens for a reason

I kind of used to believe in the whole “the universe has a plan and everything happens for a reason” thing before last summer, but after losing one of the youngest members of our family in such a tragic way, I absolutely cannot buy into this anymore. There is not a single valid reason that could make the pain of our loss feel in any way justified, so please, please, please don’t patronise people by saying that “everything happens for a reason” or that “they’re in a better place now”. In fact, if you do say these things, the person who is grieving is well within their right to thump you.

5) I thought you were over the worst of it now

This is one I’ve heard quite a few times recently, and every time someone has said it to me I’ve felt myself physically flinch. There is no time limit on grief – in fact, I honestly feel like the first few months you cope on adrenaline alone, and it’s only when you’ve got a big chunk of time between you and the event that you can start to really process your feelings. Also, the path of grief is not a linear one – just because you have seen someone smiling and having a great time doesn’t automatically mean that they are “feeling better”. It’s up and down, and as I’m learning, it’s absolutely possible to have a fun time with your friends or family while still also feeling completely devastated.

What should you say to someone who is grieving?

So if that’s what not to say, then what should you say to someone who is grieving? Keep it simple – “I’m so sorry that this shitty thing has happened to you and I love you so very much” is enough.

Also, actions speak louder than words. The acts of kindness I remember from this past year aren’t thing that people have said, it’s the things that people have done.

The friend who sent me a care box to work complete with everything she could think of that would make me feel a little better and a card letting me know she was thinking about me. The people who turned up at my family’s door with home cooked meals or magazines and sweets for the kids. The friend who sent me flowers on New Years Eve because she wanted to get 2017 off to a great start after a crappy 2016.

Those are the things I will remember forever.

You Might Also Like

  • What lovely people you have in your life to do such special things.

    This post was brilliant! I always struggle with what to say in these situations and it’s so tricky finding the words and you do end up saying awful cliched things that just aren’t helpful.

    You’re completely right, actions and love speaks so much louder than words!

    • This experience has really taught me that in these situations the best thing you can do is show up, help out where you can and let the person know that you are there for them whatever xxx

  • This post is so good Sophie, I know I panic in these situations and never know what to say because I worry what I am trying to say comes out wrong. I will never understand the comment ‘ I thought you were over the worst of it’. This was said to someone I knew who was grieving for their child, I just don’t understand how anyone thinks any one could be over it.

    What amazing friends you have though, that care box was the sweetest thing I have heard. Thanks for being so honest!

    • It’s so hard, but I don’t think you can do anything other than be there for people when they need it. I definitely realised how lucky I am to have such brilliant people in my life this year x

  • Charlie Elliott

    Genuinely, if someone ever dares to say to me that they thought I was over the worst of my grieving, I will actually strangle them. I can’t believe anyone would say that to you! I agree that actions speak louder than words though; just people’s presence, or them understanding that sometimes I need to be on my own – they’re the things that make me pull through and feel stronger.

    • It definitely made me mad! You’re right – for a long time I didn’t want to see anyone other than my family and I was grateful to my friends for letting me have that space x

  • Glasses Girl

    This post is rings so true with me. The thing I hated most when I’ve been in the depths of grief is being told ‘look after your mum, look after your sister’. It’s so, so damaging to tell people when they’re struggling to look after someone else, it makes someone feel burdened when there is everyone around you there to look after you. It’s a time to be looked after and let other pick up the slack a bit, and it’s something I make a point of saying to people, that I’m there to help them, it’s not their job to pick up others at that time xxx

    • You are so right Lizzie, it’s such a huge burden when it already feels like everything is crumbling. It’s a time when you really need your support system more than ever xxx

  • When I simultaneously lost two of my closest family members in a car accident, I don’t think I had anyone chose “actions over words” and that’s okay. Everyone grieves 100% differently. I actually really liked when people reminded me of the happy memories that we’d made (or even better telling me specific stories of their happy memories).

    But it’s never okay to tell some “everything happens for a reason”. It’s so callous! x

    • You are so right about everyone grieving differently, Amanda. I agree that hearing about everyone’s happy memories of Blossom definitely helped (especially her cheeky sayings!), but I did find at times that remembering those things made my loss feel even greater, if that makes sense? x

  • Love this post. Sometimes people over do it without even knowing, I’m someone who just wants to be left alone for at least 24 hours before I can be consoled a little bit.

  • The actions you mentioned at the end are so kind and thoughtful, what lovely people. I struggle so much in these kinds of situations to know what to say, I just get so awkward and desperate to comfort the person. I don’t think I would ever say any of these (although I’m sure they came from a good place), but it’s good to know that the thing which is exactly what you are thinking at the time (i.e ‘I’m so sorry and I love you’) is about as okay as it can be xxx

    • I am very lucky to have such great people in my life! I honestly think that the best thing you can do is just to be there for someone and pick up the things that they may be forgetting, like food or helping with workload or whatever. It can be hard to know what you need when you’re in the midst of grief, so people helping without needing to be asked is such a blessing! x

  • OMG number 4…..unbearable. This is such a good post, and I was nodding along with all of it xx