What to Say (and NOT to Say) to Someone in Grief
We all know the simple truth that death is, in fact, a part of life. The physical transition of a loved one is something we all have to face during our time on this Earth. Even though we can know with all our heart that there is no real “death” – simply a transfer or change of energy – the grieving process can be an intense, challenging journey at times.
Although everyone grieves in different ways, the support of friends and loved ones when we are walking the path of grief is extremely important. However, for those holding the space for someone in grief, knowing what to say can sometimes be tricky. We want to offer support and love, but don’t always know the right words.
Based on experiences I’ve had and heard of from clients, here are some tips on what to say (and what not to say) to a person who is grieving:
Do not say: I know how you feel
Although we each experience loss, it’s important to note – as I mentioned above – that everyone experiences loss differently. So, just because your loved one may have passed in a similar way or you may have experienced the same kind of loss, does NOT mean you know or understand how they feel. It’s important not to make any assumptions!
Rather than saying that you know how someone feels, try the next suggestion instead.
Do say: I’m sorry for your loss or I’m sorry to hear of __________’s passing
This lets the person know that you are holding them in a loving space, without making the assumption that you know how thy are feeling. It also gives them the opening, if they wish to take it, to talk more about their feelings or the experience around their loved one’s transition from the physical to Spirit.
Do not say: It’s been _______ months/years; you really need to move on.
It’s hard to believe, but people actually DO say things like this. It’s not ill-intentioned; in fact, it’s usually meant to help the person feel better and move through their grieving process faster. But here is the thing that’s unsupportive about this statement: There’s no timeline for grief. Some people move through their feelings quickly, and others take months or years to walk through the stages of their grief. So to tell someone, “you really need to move on,” invalidates their feelings and makes them question if something is wrong with them for not working through their grief “faster”.
If someone you care about is grieving and it has been a while that they’ve been going through the process, try inviting them over for a cup of coffee, going out for a walk together to talk, or simply connecting on the phone for a while. Sometimes just the company – even if not a lot of words are exchanged – can do a world of good. And of course, if you are genuinely concerned about the amount of time someone is taking to go through their grieving process, gently and lovingly encourage them to seek help from a therapist, counselor, or other trained professional.
Do say: How can I support you right now?
This question is probably the MOST important thing you can say to someone who is grieving. A lot of times, they may not have an answer for you right away. Often they are too emotional and reaching out to ask for support is the furthest thing from their mind. But by asking this question, you give them an opportunity to stop, get present and check in with themselves, and see what would best support them. You can even follow up by saying, “You don’t have to have an answer for me right now. Take some time and think about it, and if there’s anything I can do, I am here.”
There is one important part of this statement that is unspoken, but is just as important, if not more so, than the words. If you are going to offer support, be ready to follow through if or when the grieving person asks for your help. Now, this is not to say that you put your life on hold for them; however, if you tell someone you are there for them, have the integrity to actually BE there for them. Disappointment is not an emotion that they need to experience on top of their grief.
When it comes to pets who have crossed over, do not say: “Well, you can always get another dog.” (cat, bird, horse, etc.)
Again, the intentions with this statement are usually to help the person and lessen the pain that they are experiencing. However, think about it this way . . . most times, people’s pets are like children to them. If you knew someone whose child had transitioned into Spirit, you wouldn’t say to them, “Well, you can always have another child,” right?
The intention here is well-meaning, but it comes off as insensitive. Instead, consider telling them that you are sorry for their loss and, when the time is right, you know there will be another dog, cat, etc. out there that will want to experience all of the love they have to share.
Lastly, do let the grieving person know how much you love them.
During times of great loss, all anyone truly wants – other than, of course, to not have to go through the grieving process – is to feel loved and supported by the people around them. It may not seem like much, but letting someone know you love them and are holding them in your thoughts and prayers can do more than you might imagine. It is a simple statement, but in the case of providing support and strength for someone in grief, simple is good.