Someone, at some point, will say something inappropriate and potentially hurtful when you’re dealing with illness or death. There’s no getting around it; it happens. Maybe we should just face the reality that it’s part of the process.


I’ve learned through my own experience that most people truly do not mean to hurt us; they just don’t know what to say and through either their discomfort or lack of experience with loss, they say something totally insensitive.


While I’m assertive in most areas of communication, I have to admit that I’m a wimp when it comes to coining a response to inappropriate comments. Of course they always come when I’m at a vulnerable point. And I’m always shocked that someone would say something “like that” to me.


Knowing this will most likely happen, what should you do?


Most of us just keep quiet and seethe internally. It’s very sad when people share a comment made many years ago that still hurts; what’s worse, they may continue to hold a grudge with the person who said it.


What to say or do can be a real dilemma. Being silent may let the offender off the hook, thinking what they said was just fine. But proceed with caution when crafting a response. If the comment comes from a family member or friend, your response may put the relationship in jeopardy. 


Some other thoughts on the subject:


  1. Be aware that there will always be people who may say the wrong thing.
  2. Recognize that when we’re grieving, we are more sensitive to what’s said.
  3. Just as you would want the same courtesy from others, think before you speak.
  4. If you feel you must reply, try to begin with a positive, for example, how much you appreciate their support, before sharing comments that you find hurtful.


If you choose to stand up for yourself and educate others on what's appropriate and what's not, you could always ask, “Why would you say that?” or “Why do you need to know?” Someone suggested, "That type of comment hurts me, so please stop." One of my favorite responses is to ask, "How would you feel if someone said something like that to you?" But be careful with that one; the last time I used it, they said they wouldn’t mind!


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 StoreClick here to order.

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Comment by Judie Johnson on October 15, 2011 at 9:54pm
I think that people mean well, but really don't know what to say. I try to be understanding of this, because there are no books on proper remarks. The one that really got me to the quick was "are you dating yet?" from a minister. My hubby hadn't even been dead 7 months....
Comment by Mrs. Ann L Crits-Moore on April 16, 2011 at 3:59pm
To: Beth Novoa and Robbie Miller Kaplan regarding Inapproprate Bereavement comments: I know not what i do with blogging, hope you get this, Beth. I am in total agreement, we all have no right to post why or how someone's chld, or other in famly died...That is none of our business..All I know is that their sould are no longer on our earth and with God now..Isn't that enough for these cold hearted people who need to hold grudges and bring up their jealousies, bad feelings, etc., at a time when can extremely hurt the family of the bereaved. Yes, I had experienced this with my baby sister, bringing up things she did in the past and how she died..It infuriates me, but being a lady, i have learned to chalk it up to total ignorance and no consideration to the trauma and tragedy, along with mental issues later on after dealing with bereavement. Also, i actually had a drunken ex-sister-in-law, who called me and wanted me to go out to party with her the day after my baby sister, who I loved so dear, when I attempted to explain, how could you ask me this now?? She drunkily responded, Are you happy now that she is dead??? I will never forget this, 13 year later..Another ex-sister-in-law had flown up from Hilton Head Island to attend a wedding, not for the funeral of my sister, she just happened to come at the same time, and she and her mother, after my sister was buried, reamed me out for not picking my sister-in-law up and spending time with her/?? What is wrong with people??? I, also, not only have not forgotten, cried even more, and made a decision to drop their friendships...I hear you Beth, Death brings out jealousy, in your case, and doing it at a time like this--she totally was out to hurt you something terrible. I feel that is what it is about, hitting you at your most vulnerable time, why not?? This is the Devil's work..You will go to Heaven and God Bless you, my friend..Sorry, so long, needed to eplain. Is this a twitter or blog?? LOL Annie xox p.s. remember would you ever hit someone hard when you they are at their lowest in life, death????? No, other reason, Do not ever talk with her again, please, after losing your Dad....If, he only knew, he would have protected you from this albatross...
Comment by Beth Novoa on April 15, 2011 at 10:59pm
My mother married a widower whose daughter had a serious problem with the fact that her father was able to find love again.  My mother's husband often said he was a very lucky man to have found love twice in his life.  After my mother's passing, the family relationships soured.  I contacted his daughter and let her know we found very old family photos that I knew they would want back.  In the short time we spent exchanging the photos she felt the need to say some derogatory things about my mother.  It seemed like my Mother became the scapegoat for everything that wasn't right with her father.  It still bothers me months later that someone can be that petty.  It is a shame that she was so jealous of what my Mom and her father had.  he never forgot her mother and my mother never intended on being her replacement.   

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