Even those with the best intentions might say something inappropriate to the bereaved. Hurtful sentiments can damage relationships; so many individuals stay away, fearing they’ll say the wrong thing.

So what can you do? Stick to the basics when speaking with the bereaved. Communicate in some way your sadness at their loss and if you have some knowledge of the deceased, mention a quality you admired. For example: “I was so sad to hear of Jill’s death. Her wonderful nature always gave me a lift.”

Statements that get you into trouble are often your interpretation of the loss. Here are some areas you might want to avoid:

1. Comments that minimize the loss, such as: “You must be relieved that this is over” or “It’s for the best that she didn’t linger.”

2. Inappropriate statements, such as: “This is a blessing in disguise.”

3. Any suggestion there is something good in the experience, such as: “Look on the bright side” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

4. Comparisons of your pain and your experience to the person who is grieving, such as: “You must feel as dreadful as I did when I got my divorce.”

5. Any reference that you know how they feel; it’s impossible to know how another person is feeling, even if you have experienced a similar loss.


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.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / misteraitch

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Comment by Chris Apel on February 8, 2011 at 8:28am
When my mother died in 1994, what I hated the most hearing was, "Life goes on." It's like people were dismissing her death, like it was nothing. Yeah, I KNOW life continues, but please don't just brush my grief aside.
Comment by River of Tears on January 28, 2011 at 4:12am

Because of the words and comments that seem to have become fibers of the pain deep within , I thought to give one the benefit of the doubt in what was said but yet wanted still to have a chance to understand more of where he may have been coming from . With great trepidation of even talking to anyone let alone one that may have had words that sank into even my numb yet some what  functioning brain days after my dear sister just passed .  Not wanting to offend or challenge his belief I just wanted to learn more of the person within since neither my sister or myself even knew him at the time but had him in our lives now .  Trying to listen and hear his words as he spoke of his beliefs and how it was that what he said may have been spoken on that day.  As many say and do things in life with out thinking as I probably have done before especially of late . It seems that he now lives a new life that he has just found in a way that he may believe is just and right .  Hurtful though his words and comments were I found myself  with compassion for one that has never known the love of another like I had with my sister or possibly never before . If he has he may not know the value of sharing ones life with another is more then what you can gain , for me it was the hope of what I could possibly offer those around me especially when it came to my Sister . In the close of this conversation of sorts I found a  mix or feelings come from both of us , at a point I thought he may have some understanding of so words that can be said be better saved for another time yet in the same breath he words once again told me that he did not understand at all for he took offense to my feelings of the loss and sorrow that I may feel, for all he could say to me was "he was not mad" that I spoke to him .  At that moment I knew,  he only could hear and listen to what he wanted to, rather then the intent I hoped for which was only to  have  better understanding of ones beliefs .Sadly I did not realize he would take offense which I apologized for which now seems a bit strange since it was his words that were of pain .  I was able to  attain even in that comment alone of not being mad .  For now I know I may never be able to mend the pain that has occurred  by any of the  words, comments,or actions that followed , for it will never be as deep as the pain felt  in the actual  passing of my Sister . As much as we would all hope that we were all here on earth all as one compassion and love for another . It is at times like these that it becomes so clear of those that believe that they are here alone  , solely to  exist  for themselves  .  Do I regret going to talk to him ,  in some ways no . I as able to find a deeper understanding of who he was . He may never care or want to care most primarily of my sister or even me but then again how can I expect or hope for that when I had hope that my Sister would still be here with me today so not even to writing this today .  The words are of course apart of the tape that plays over and over in my head daily which may never go away for allot of what was said hit deep with in all my guilt as though some it was written on my head this is what to say .  Compassion I still have my heart for him and those who may just not know the right things to say for I fear they may have ever know the love I and all that are here to come to share .  He may never know the words or comments, he choices to say are as painful as they are but then how could he if unable to listen and hear .  Gain should not be a reason to say something for oneself nor should it be against another in times of sorrow or pain for in the end all you have is the reminisce of the footprints you have left in someone else's pain . The kindness one can show , is more then what one would ask , for it is the honor you show their loved one ,  can be the memory that they can hold  intead .      To all of you take care.

Comment by River of Tears on January 20, 2011 at 4:30am

Thank you for the words of wisdom  . Wishing many could read this and all the entries so to see how it does effect one .  Though I fear that those who choose to say things that seem so heartless and are so hurtful will never , and may not even know how to live life with love .  As I struggle with life now with out my loved ones , I try to only think about the kind and generous of heart individuals  , but the words of other that were cruel and so out of place and not even asked for are ones that I replay in my head .  The old adage the words do not hurt , they truly can.  Silence would have been preferable ,I just did not know how to stop them . Words and comments that caused greater pain more then I even realized at the time ,but  now these words  replay in my head  wondering how it is that friends and family both could say the things they did , trying to understanding to it all .  Thank goodness for the kind gestures and words of the few who truly knew that this  time was only for my sister who passed and not for them .     

Comment by Lynda Neue on December 21, 2010 at 12:06pm

I was stunned when a cousin said brightly, "Oh, he's in a better place now!"  I thought, "Good Grief!") That mindless comment doesn't even make sense.   

My cold reply was, "Better than my arms?  Really?"

If people can't think before they speak, maybe they could simply shut up and say nothing.

A knowing look or warm hand can offer more compassion than a hackneyed, meritless remark.


Comment by Diana Garcia on October 30, 2010 at 9:06pm
I love this one " you have to be strong.." ( why ? says who ) , or " you know you have to take care of your mom ..." ( nah really ?? I was just gonna let her fend for herself ) ,also " at least he's with his mom and he's happy " ( so what are you saying ? He wasn't happy with us ) and the best one " you shouldn't cry , you have to let your dad go .. you don't want him to be sad" ( why can't I cry ? my daddy's gone )

One of my cousin's did the best thing for me.. She said she was so sorry for my loss and just listened to me and hugged me and just let me cry .
Comment by sharon cox on October 30, 2010 at 6:55am
The truth is that people don't know what to say so they repeat what theyve heard over the years (the old sayings like "you must feel better knowing your loved one is at peace or you are young you'll find another love, have another child etc. When my husband died, I realized that I had been guilty of saying the same things to people because I didnt know any better. A year before my husband died, we lost my cousin. At the service I was talking to my Aunt (his Mother) about how many people were at the service. I said " If that's a testimony to his life, he sure was loved" She said, I know that should make me feel better, but it doesn't! A year later I realize how she felt that day. I didn't mean to hurt her, I was just struggling with what to say enstead of keeping my big mouth shut and giving her a hug. I have been so floored by the insensitivity of people's words about my husband's death, but I have also been so blessed to have loving people care for me. I will always be more careful about what I say to someone who has lost someone, because now I know that sometimes it's best to just say I'm sorry and give them a loving hug. Everyone's grief is unique. What words set me off may be different than what sets you off. That's the hard part of trying to help a grieving person because they never know what offends them until it happens.
Comment by Carol Lowry on August 14, 2010 at 5:10am
I have three statements that qualify as what not to say. They were all said to parents who had just lost a child.
1. You should feel lucky that your child died at age 21.
2. I know just how you feel. My dog died last week.
3. That's one less child you'll have to worry about.
Comment by Kathy Moore on May 8, 2010 at 8:55am
When my Father died in1992. I hear some comments that still make me mad. One of them came from my Step Mother she said that when I call him long district collect that I always run up the phone bill. Another came from my Uncle. He said James live long than I though because with the Cancer he had I thoug he die a year ago. He last long than any of us thoug. I didn't know what to think about that comment. As for his coffin. My Step MOther though having praryering hands around the coffin would make my father mad. I have trouble with this because my father went to church plus his funmal was at a church. It been 17 years since he pass but sometimes I have those days that I cry my eyes out and other days I think of something nice he say or did and Laugh and than go on and do what ever I was doing.
Comment by Wayne Brown on April 14, 2010 at 11:15am
C.S. Lewis kept a notebook of his thoughts and feelings after his wife's death, which eventually was published as "A Grief Observed." Something he said there about his feelings matched very well with my own experiences of grief, and I try to keep this in mind whenever I talk with someone who is grieving:

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing."
Comment by Debbi06 on February 16, 2010 at 2:55pm
I have been through it and if you don't know what to say just say I am so sorry for your loss. That says alot

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