Words might be the best way to express condolences following a death and it’s the words that stay with us the longest. Unfortunately, it’s the negative words that the bereaved seem to remember, so think carefully before you speak.
One bereaved mom told me that she still remembers what a friend said, even though her baby died thirteen years ago. “She told me my baby was in a better place. How could she be in a better place when she should be here with me?” Interestingly, I’ve never heard someone say, “My friend said the most loving thing to me after my sister died and I think about it all the time.” Instead, it’s the negative things the bereaved hear that they continue to replay.
I’d like to think that people don’t mean to say inappropriate things; they just don’t know what to say and words tumble out. But here are some truly inappropriate things, commonly shared with the bereaved, that you should never say to someone mourning a loved one:
I’m always shocked and surprised that family members, friends, colleagues and neighbors can say such inappropriate things. It’s very sad that the sting of something so hurtful lingers for so long. If you were to discuss these comments with those who said them, the individuals would most likely have no recollection of what they had said or how they had hurt you. It is so important to be supportive to the bereaved but most important, to think before speaking. The legacy each of us should leave is one of caring and support, not hurtful statements.
So what can you say? Tell them how very sorry you are and give them a hug. That’s it. Show you care and if they would like to speak, listen. Keep it sincere and simple and maybe, just maybe, they’ll tell a friend that someone knew just what to say and do. And they’ll be talking about you!
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 available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "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. Click here to order.
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