Though we’re all well acquainted with how to celebrate happy occasions with people, sad ones are more fraught with worry. It’s sad, it’s awkward, and it’s hard to know what exactly to say when someone you know experiences a loss.
Whether it’s a friend, coworker or acquaintance, it’s hard for all of us to find the right words to express sadness and sensitivity, and offer comfort during a hard time. It’s also normal to feel self-conscious and wonder about proper etiquette.
Here are some clear dos and don’ts that we always keep in mind when talking to someone that’s suffered a loss.
5 Things You Should Never Say
- “I know how you feel.” Grief is personal. You don’t know how they feel, and you shouldn’t risk minimizing their emotions.
- “It will be okay” or any variation including “This too shall pass, and Time heals all wounds.” Those sentiments may be true, but they’re not helpful to emphasize to someone in the midst of grieving.
- “You can have/find/meet another.” Whether it’s losing a child, a spouse or partner, or a close friend, the deceased is irreplaceable to the person in mourning.
- “They’re in a better place.” It’s not for us to judge a person’s level of suffering, and not helpful to cast death as a relief (for the deceased, or the people who lost them).
- “Focus on the blessings,” or anything else that forces a positive like “Cherish the wonderful memories,” or “S/he lived a good life.” A mourner deserves time to feel grief without guilt or the pressure of a social mandate to be grateful for what they still have.
5 Things You Can Say Instead
- “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Keep it simple and honest.
- “I’m here for you.” Reassure those in mourning that you’re there in their time of need.
- “I’d be happy to mow the lawn and pick up some groceries,” or any variation of that offer. Figure out what needs to be done and help out.
- “I love you.” Showing kindness and affection during a difficult time is often helpful.
- Actions speak louder than words. Sometimes words aren’t necessary—offering a hug or just sitting with the person can be enough.
Arielle Shipper, Gardens of Memory Contributor