What You Should Never Say to the Bereaved

While chatting with a friend I mentioned that my good friend had died this winter. She asked, “Is that your friend who was terminally ill?” When I answered yes, she said, “Well you knew she was going to die.” Speechless, I thought, what an insensitive thing to say to someone grieving a loss.

Anyone who has experienced a loss knows that people say inappropriate things all the time. The news of a death is shocking and many individuals just do not know what to say when confronted with sad news. Instead of simply saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or, “That’s such sad news,” they speak without thinking and something tactless spills out.

I recently spoke with a young woman who shared that a friend had told her after her mom died, “I know how you feel; my dog died.” The comparison of the loss of her mother to a dog was hurtful. A bereaved neighbor felt the same way when a friend compared the death of her beloved husband to her divorce.

While these are just a few comments that can hurt the bereaved, what follows is a list of things you should never say to the bereaved:

  • I know exactly how you feel.
    Every loss is different and you cannot possibly know how the bereaved feels even if you have also lost a mother, brother, child, etc.
  • He/she is in a better place.
    There is no better place than here for the bereaved.
  • You should be grateful that he/she is finally at peace.
    It is impossible to be grateful that your loved one is dead, no matter how sick he or she was.
  • Time heals all wounds.
    Some wounds never heal and the possibility that you will feel this bad for a long time is no comfort.
  • It’s time to move on.
    Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time and however the bereaved is grieving is the right way for them.
  • You’re young; you can marry again, have another child, etc.
    No one grieving a loss wants to contemplate replacing their loved one.

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.

Image provided courtesy of the author.

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Comment by phyllis eldridge on June 20, 2014 at 7:35pm

My husband died April 9th of this year from a heart attack. He was only 44. I have heard each of these except for number 3. And lately I hear a lot of the last. I myself would never had said any of those things to anyone. I wish everyone would read this. Saying nothing is batter than any of these things.

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