There are plenty of times, when you’re in a situation that is new or awkward, that you can just put your foot in your mouth. You don’t know what to say, and before you know it—without thinking—you say something that makes you just want to do a face palm. Worse—you say something and are oblivious to the fact that everyone around you wants to do a face palm!
Most of the time you can laugh off these situations, but when someone has just suffered a loss it’s not a position you want to be in. There are a few things that you should not say to someone who is grieving. Knowing them ahead of time can save you a lot of uncomfortable silences and personal embarrassment.
There are a few things that you should not say to someone who is grieving.
1. "I'm not sure what to say."
Anything along this line, such as, "I'm speechless" or "I don't want to say anything that's going to make you feel worse" may seem like a safe option. The problem with it is that it puts the burden on the grieving person. If you don't know what to say, don't say anything; just listen.
2. "How are you?"
Fight every instinct in your body to ask this question-- it's such a habit that many of us don't even think about saying it. Asking someone who just lost a loved one how they are, or if they're alright, comes off as down-right insensitive. How do you think she is when her husband just died? Do you really think he's alright when his mother just passed away?
You know how she is, really—so don’t ask. Just offer a hug, a smile, or a pat on the back.
3. "Everything happens for a reason."
This sentiment can be lumped into other clichés, like, "It was God's will," or "It was meant to be." Right now, your friend is suffering the pains of a loss. He doesn't want to hear that there was some grand plan of a higher power or some universal forces at work to target her and rip her life apart. She may be struggling with her own crisis of faith at the moment as it is— don’t add fuel to the fire. Don’t try to be profound or philosophical. Don’t get his head spinning again with questions about why this had to happen.
Just let him know, “You’ll be in my thoughts/prayers.”
4. "I know what you're going through."
This is a terrible faux pas-- this friend of yours is in the midst of one of the hardest times of his life, and you're making it about you? The problem with saying this is that, most likely, you don't know how your friend feels. You may have experienced grief, but it is a pretty unique and lonely experience for each individual person. You can't know exactly how they are feeling. Another problem is that it can come off as an attempt at a one-upmanship; as though you feel so much more deeply or handle thing so much more gracefully. This is not a time to play that game.
Just take your friend's hand and tell her, "I'm here for you."
5. "He's in a better place now."
This sentiment is in line with, "At least he isn't suffering anymore," and, "She lived a long life." Yes, we all get death is inevitable, especially when someone was old or sick and we all knew it was coming sooner rather than later. Knowing your loved one is going to die, or that his last days were difficult, doesn’t make it any easier for those left behind. The loss is still just as bad— and considering it’s something they’ve been anticipated for a while they’ve probably worn out.
A better thing to say is, “I’m so sorry.” Simple, yet elegant.