Don’t say that, say this: Ways to Express Care to a Person in Mourning

“Stuhr Funeral Home has great compassion for families and individuals in mourning over the death of a loved one. One way we can offer help is by guiding survivors in their responses to the bereaved,” says Funeral Director Brian Calhoun.

Most people, no matter how uncomfortable they are when expressing their feelings, can convey concern for a family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance who has lost a loved one. “I’m sorry for your loss” is simple, heartfelt, and true but likely we feel that it is inadequate and we may wonder if the grieving person hears more than a platitude. But it’s equally important to know what not to say to avoid the possibility of adding pain and pressure to the bereaved. Here are some examples, why they are not helpful, and some alternatives:

Don’t Say That Say This
“When you’re feeling better, you can…” “Now, or in the future, I will be just a phone call away.”
“When you get back to work, you will…”  Sit there, be there. That may be exactly what they need.

Society has trained us with the expectation that when sorrow arrives, we need to move on as soon as possible. We’re also plagued with the notion that when presented with a painful situation, we must try to fix it. “You can’t fix this,” says Licensed Counselor Donna Kingsbury. “Grief is the step-by-step process of healing and recovery towards building a new normal that integrates the loss. It takes time and there’s no limit on how much time it will take.”

“When my husband/grandmother died, I…” “It’s okay to grieve – to feel sad, angry or lost.”
“I never thought I would get over it.”  “I wish I could take away the pain you feel.”

Giving the grieving person an opportunity to talk and share is extremely important. Listen and make sure that your response is about them and not an effort to commiserate with your own story. Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all.

“You’re going to be fine.” “Have you eaten today? I would really like to bring you dinner.”
“You’ll manage, you’ll see.” “Were you able to sleep?”
“Things will get back to normal soon.” “Can I pick up the children from school?” 

“I know Jim cut the grass; I would love to come over and do that for you.”

When a death occurs, there is often a tendency to focus on the initial loss and not the secondary losses encountered by a change in life circumstances. Loneliness and isolation associated can be compounded by urgencies in basic needs such as housing or childcare. Try to know and anticipate what is needed at a practical level: transportation, meals, picking up medications, a phone tree. Grief is overwhelming and exhausting. Be specific and personal in your offers of help.

“You’ll never find another one like him/her.”  “Your mother was the most generous person I’ve ever known.”
“It’s going to be hard to be alone.”  “Working with him made going to work special.”

If you also had a relationship with the deceased, sharing pleasant memories can be comforting. Hearing that the deceased enhanced your life can be helpful to the bereaved.