Don’t Say These 13 Things to a Grieving Person

. at . 5 comments

624748_blond_woman_4Grieving is a disorderly process, unpredictable in appearance and manifestations. It is hard work and the steps to, and the time it takes to process are individual for each woman. It differs in expression, intensity, and time.

Because our society hasn’t (as a whole) taught us about the grief process: its wide array of feelings, its impact on our behaviors and body, and the fact that grieving is normal, many women struggle needlessly and far longer than necessary. People are also afraid of the intense feelings of others. So they change the subject, minimize the feelings and intellectualize the situation.

Below are things that should not be said to a person in mourning. Dr. Greg Harvey has narrowed them down to ten. While numbers 2, 8, 9 and 10 may be true, most people say these things way too early in the grief process. And even when the person is “ready” for such truths, only a few people earn the right to say them.[1]

Don’t Say This . . .

  1. I know how you feel.
  2. You’re never given anything that you can’t deal with.
  3. Time heals all wounds.
  4. Don’t dwell on it.
  5. Don’t feel bad – so don’t cry or emote in any way.
  6. It’s time for you to move on – so let’s replace the loss.
  7. It’s probably for the best.
  8. It’s in the natural order of things.
  9. He lived a full life.
  10. Be grateful you had him for so long.

 Three unhelpful things that are said to or expected of grievers (James, 28-36):

  1. Grieve alone.
  2. Be strong for others.
  3. Keep busy.

 It’s obvious that people don’t know what to say or when to say it. “The great majority of well-meaning people around us do not have successful grief recovery experiences to share. Therefore, they unwittingly encourage us to act recovered.” (James, 41)

Edited to Add: In the comments Theresa added this  One More Thing to NOT Say: “God must have wanted your loved one with Him.”

Let’s Talk About It.

  • Which of these 13 things have you heard? How did it make you feel?
  • Which of these 13 things have you said? Why did you say it?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the following sentence.  Why. “And even when the person is “ready” for such truths, only a few people earn the right to say them.”

Works Cited

Harvey, Greg. Grieving for Dummies.  Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, 2007. 

James, John W and Russell Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook. New York: Harper Perennial, 1999.


[1]For example, when I was new in my divorce grief, many people told me not to worry because God would be my husband now. I did not find comfort in that for two reasons. First, I didn’t have a very good view of husbands so having another one brought little comfort. Second, I was hurt and confused that God would allow such a thing to happen. So having an intimate relationship with Him was difficult for a time. Now I can appreciate God being my husband. A woman who has been through what I’ve been through is one I can more easily hear these types of truth from.


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    Entry filed under: divorce, Grief.

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    5 Comments Add your own

    • 1. Theresa  |  . at .

      I’ve shared on my blog about this. When my brother died the same week my parent’s divorce was in the paper and my Dad’s remarriage to the woman he left us for, people kept telling us that God wouldn’t give us any more than we could handle. I was in 1st grade and I turned to my Mom and said, “If God won’t give us anymore than we can handle, then he must think we’re pretty tough huh?” I never thought to blame God, probably because my faith was still so child like and had that innocent quality. But the thing I really loathed hearing was when people said, “God must have wanted Danny with Him.” I think that’s a terrible thing to say to anyone of any age who is grieving a loss. What a terrible way to think of God. I wanted to share that, not to make people feel sorry for me, but because I hope that we as Christians NEVER say that to someone!!!

      I have learned that time does not heal all wounds and I believe that only God can heal wounds anyway. 35+ years later, I still ache for my brother and the pain of his absence is still there, but the way I handle it is different, the way I am comforted is different. It does not go away but becomes a part me, that hopefully is part of a patina, not an ugly scar. It is a part of Romans 8:28-29 working out in my life. I hate when people suggest that in time a person will forget the loss of their child or husband.

      I do carry my grief with me, but not as a “badge of honor” or some kind of martyrdom. To me that spits into the face of God and His caring and gentle healing in my life. I know my journey of healing is not because I did something right or good or followed certain steps in a book. It’s because He loved me and because I let His love soak into me. I struggle with a couple friends who after long periods of time (many years) still have a “death grip” hold onto their grief and don’t seem to want to grow or heal or feel joy ever again. I would like to know what you do or say to friends like this. At this point I only pray and tell them I love them.

      As a single woman (and I think being single for a long time can be in itself a small grief in life – for the loss of what is expected as “normal”) I heard many things like you did Susan after your divorce. Not so painful as in your situation, but I often felt irritated that people who had been married as teens/early 20s could glibly spout off verses when they had no idea what it was like to still be single past 30.

      Do you think if our society recognized grief more, we would come up with better ways of supporting each other and not being so insensitive in sharing or do you think it has always been like this? Looking at Job and his friends, I wonder if it has always been this way. It seems we have had so many deaths at church this last year or so – is there any kind of support for them?

      Like

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    • 2. susan2009  |  . at .

      Theresa, You have lived throug a lot. And you’ve handled it with such grace and growth.

      Theresa, I agree that is a terrible way to think of God! In fact I’ve added this to my list.

      People have probably always been insentitive to grief and other pain issues until they’ve gone through it themselves. But I understand that some cultures are better than others in recognizing the vailidity of grief and that it takes time and that it is okay that it takes time.

      It sounds like those friends who have held onto their grief are stuck in the grieving process. Are they open to a conversation with you about it? Perhaps they would talk to a professional counselor or pastor? If not, maybe they’d go through a grief book with you? There are lots ot choose from.

      We don’t have an official grief support group at church. That is a good idea. Maybe someday. I do see people reacing out to the ones in mourning, reaching out with hugs, cards, food, prayers and a listening ear.

      Like

      Reply
      • 3. Diana  |  . at .

        Grief groups are the best, I don’t make it to grief groups as often as I would like to but I think part of the reason is because there are none real close to my house. Hi Susan!!!

        Like

    • 4. Sandra  |  . at .

      I think “I don’t know what to say. How can I help or what can I do?” Is a very appropriate response because you are telling your friend that you love them and want to help but need guidance.

      In all honesty, I recently said to a friend “he had a full life”…
      I didn’t mean “it’s OK that he’s gone because he lived long…”
      I meant it as fact and that there are many precious moments to treasure. (I also said that I didn’t know what to say because I hadn’t lost in that way before.)

      I guess words that sound comforting in your head might not be as comforting to the person receiving it.

      I agree that most people don’t know what to say and try to say something “positive” but it comes out all wrong.

      Grief is hard. It is a slow process and every heart has it’s own timetable.

      Thanks for giving these ideas and tips. It is a hard subject, and it is good to have some ideas of how to handle it.

      Like

      Reply
    • 5. Mary Prillaman  |  . at .

      I always hated “He’s in a better place”. When I was in the throes of grief, this was not a comfort to me. I wanted to say, “No, he is better off here with me!!!” But I just tried to remind myself that people don’t know what to say to a grieving person and sometimes, it really is the thought that counts.

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      Reply

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