What NOT to say

There are phrases that seem to automatically come out of our mouths, without us even thinking about what we’re saying or why we’re saying it.

Things that are NOT helpful:

  • Platitudes such as “everything happens for a reason” or “they’re in a better place now” or “good will come from this in time”
  • Anything that starts with “At least…”
  • Anything that starts with “You should…” or “You can always…” or "You just need to…"
  • I know how you feel
  • I understand
  • Don’t cry
  • Be strong
  • They wouldn’t want you to be …
  • It could be worse

If you are in a conversation with a griever, and the griever is now consoling you, you have hijacked their grief.

In our attempt to empathize, we often end up telling our own story instead of listening to theirs. You didn't mean to, you were probably just trying to show that you understand how they feel. But by doing so, you have shifted the conversation to be about you. It’s not about you right now.

For tips on what to say instead, visit Beware: Grief Hijacking.

Grief shaming can happen so easily, we often don’t even realize we’re doing it. Grief shaming happens when we minimize, dismiss, or judge how someone else is grieving. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

For examples of what grief shaming can look like, visit Beware: Grief Shaming.

The problem with platitudes is there’s always this ghost sentence. This second half of the sentence that we don't say out loud but is very, very clearly implied to the grieving person.

So, if you’re grieving and I come to you and I say “At least you had them as long as you did,” the second half of the sentence there is “… so don't be so sad.”

“They would want you to be happy … so stop feeling so sad.”

The grieving person can hear the second half of the sentence even if you don't say it out loud. So a really cool and slightly uncomfortable exercise to do for yourself if you're thinking about things I might say to a grieving friend or family member, if you can add "so don't feel so bad" at the end of what you're thinking of saying, don't say it.