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 Liz on February 13, 2010 at 10:23am
The one I just love is "He is in a better place." I always want to scream "No, No, NO! THIS is the better place. Being dead is not by a long shot a better place." I hear those words even 3 years after my son (age 47) died in an accident that happened while he was stopped at a traffic light. That remark assumes that no one would - as I do - conjure up a mental picture of the "better place" where he is actually is - cremated and in a box. One day I am going to say it: "The place he is in is a box. I, for one, do not think that is better."I am an extrovert who talks openly about him and I can talk about funny things he said and did without crying. Given that, my best friend remarked recently that I was not "grieving." WHAT??!! And I keep the huge portrait of him on my stair wall, which gives rise to comments about putting the picture away so that I do not have to look at it every time I use the stairs.Oh, great. Let's forget about him. I don't think so. Oh, yes, and there is the one about my having three other grown children and 10 granchildren. I guess I am not supposed to miss one, given the large numbers.
Comment by Donnie on January 22, 2010 at 3:02am
When my mother died in 1980, her adoptd brother made a comment about the money we paid for her casket "I do not know why such an expensive casket, after a while nothing will be there anyway"this really hurt me, so I never spoke another word to him nor did I attend his funeral when he died.
Comment by beauty3 on January 16, 2010 at 12:16pm
when my daughter first died, about 2 weeks later, my mom took me out to eat and i had on my memorial shirt with my daughters picture. this lady thought it was a picture of my other daughter (her twin) and then my mom told her it wasnt. the lady said that she lost one of her twin sons at 13 months, and said "well i think that is why God gave us 2 babies, to make it easier" i know she meant well but I wanted to slap some sense into her and ask her "why would God give me 2 babies just to bury 1"
Comment by beauty3 on January 16, 2010 at 12:12pm
something that hurt me was when people would and still do compare a miscarriage to that of burying a child. i know a miscarriage hurts, trust me i had one while my ex husband was in iraq and i was by myself with our son. there is a major difference of losing a baby through a miscarriage and having to hold your child for 3 months and putting her to rest in the ground. recently my moms stupid boyfriend told me "i lost my brother,w hich was like losing a son. i used to change his diapers" i got SO mad at him because that is nothing even close to losing your own child.
Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on January 13, 2010 at 5:37pm
Dear Liz and Leslie,
I'm so sorry that you both lost such dear family members. I appreciate your sharing your experiences with us. I can only think that people are uncomfortable with loss and they speak without thinking. It's unfortunate that their comments hurt rather than comfort and for some reason, it is the inappropriate things that we can't seem to forget.
Comment by Leslie Villone on January 13, 2010 at 4:02pm
My sister died at 45 after receiving a heart transplant and many months in the hospital trying to recover from numerous complications. Most people were very supportive. I received emails from college friends that I hadn't heard from in years offering their condolences. But what I didn't understood was hearing from someone months after her death say "oh I'm sorry about your sister but I found out late." What does that even mean? Is there a statute of limitations on saying I'm sorry. I fully expect people to not know what to say or to even say inappropriate remarks but to say I found out late was confounding.
Comment by Liz on January 13, 2010 at 9:23am
my son died 3 years ago at 47..a strange accident, he was hit from behind while waiting for the light to change at 4 in the afternoon. His airbag deployed and threw his head against the window, knocking him out. He went home from the hospital and died of a subdural hematorma 10 days later that would have given him the symptoms he was warned about and that he must have ignored. Mr. Success, tall and handsome, two kids, lovely wife. He is not "in a better place," thank you very much; his place was here and IT was the best. "How can you go back to work the next day?" I am grieving in my own way, thank you. (I am a lawyer and had appointments for four indigent clients who would have lost half a day's pay if I did not show up.) But my all time favorite is "I never see you cry about him; I don't think you are grieving properly." WHAT???? I loved the phone calls, the unsolicited food that just showed up, the notes and the cards - especially the ones with his obit cut from the paper - and my favorite was the offer from an out of town buddy to run an obit in a paper where he once lived.
Comment by Melissa on August 27, 2009 at 4:33pm

I believe in Karma. It will come her way. Ugliness produces ugly. Unfortunately for her, negative Karma usually comes back on a person multiplied. It may not be so obvious but it will be around her...
Comment by BellaRose on August 25, 2009 at 10:55am
I have experienced 7 deaths within the past 11 months since the death of my best friend Whitney on Sept 23 08. My best friend's father just passed yesterday and I'm so worried that I'm going to say something wrong.

Anyways, on saying something wrong - I heard quite a few following 21 year old Whitney's death (single mother of a special needs 2 year old baby)
"Well, at least he won't remember." What!? I WANT my Godson to remember his mother. True, he won't remember he was in the accident in which she passed, but to say that he won't remember his mother was just brutal.
"What's going to happen to him? Foster care?" Foster care for my godbaby? No way! There's two sides of that family, and if nobody would have taken him, as his Godmother, I would have! (father and mother were in a terrible divorce. Father's mother has ended up taking care of my godson)
"How's Dave? I heard he watched her die." 'Dave', her fiance, was driving the car when they were hit by a truck in the passenger side, which killed her. Why did this person have to add that they heard that he watched the woman he loved died? I about slapped this person for their rudeness.
The absolute worst most terrible thing I have ever heard regarding someone's death.
Whitney had an enemy in "Lisa". Whitney died on Lisa's birthday.
Lisa told Whitney's fiance's brother, "Best birthday present I ever got."
To this day, I am just praying that karma comes around. That's just downright cruel.
Comment by Robbie Miller Kaplan on August 4, 2009 at 1:23pm
Niki - Thanks for sharing such a lovely sentiment with us.

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