How To Deal With Insensitivity After a Death

There seem to be no conversational boundaries when it comes to death. The bereaved are often subjected to inappropriate comments and questions that can shock, hurt, or leave us speechless. We are often left wondering, how can friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and even acquaintances say or ask that?

It can be especially stressful when someone you truly care about hurts you. A week after my mother died a friend inquired, “Do you think she knew she was going to die?” I hadn’t pondered that question but after the conversation, I did nothing else but think about it for days. And as much as the question pained me, I never told my friend; I did not want to lose her friendship.

I’m not alone. It is very hard to articulate your feelings when mourning a loss and even harder to do it tactfully. Sometimes it is not just inappropriate conversation; there are people who just cannot understand our loss or our pattern of grief. It can become too difficult for them or us to continue the relationship while we mourn our loss. It is not uncommon for the bereaved to distance themselves or walk away from some friendships.

So, how can you handle inappropriate comments or questions?

  • For starters it can be helpful to understand that most people genuinely feel sadness for you but, they just do not know what to say. Maybe they have never experienced a death so they have no way to put it into context. In their discomfort, something inappropriate pops out.
  • If someone makes you uncomfortable, remove yourself. If you are on the phone say, “I hear someone at the door” or “Another call is coming in.” If you are in person say, “It’s good to see you” and then exit. Or, “I have some other business to attend to.”
  • You can always draw a boundary and say, “I’m not prepared to discuss this.”  Most people will back off but, it takes a lot of energy to deal with difficult questions and energy is what most bereaved lack.
  • Most important, surround yourself with supportive and understanding people while giving yourself the time and space to heal. There will always be understanding people who do know what to say and do so gravitate to them.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now at a reduced price for e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store.

Couple in a park photo via photopin (license)

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