From our friends at Prevention Magazine!
Best and Worst Things to Say When Someone Dies
8 Things NOT To Say When Your Friend Is Grieving
Even the best-intentioned people are tongue-tied by tragedy. Here’s help.
By Julie Halpert-Prevention Magazine
Let’s say something heartbreaking has befallen your friend. If you’re like a lot of well-meaning women, you probably plan to ply her with ice cream and pitch-perfect nuggets of wisdom. But unfortunately, finding anything to say—and especially the right thing—is no easy task.
“We’re so phobic about aging and dying,” says Joe Nowinski, supervising psychologist at the University of Connecticut Health Center and co-author of Saying Goodbye: How Families Can Find Renewal Through Loss. “It creates anxiety and discomfort.” But no matter how uncomfortable death makes you, saying nothing is off the table. And so are a few other things.
So what should you say? We polled real women about what they liked—and didn’t like—hearing in the wake of their own losses. Here, what to say instead of the stuff you find in greeting cards—so your friend really hears you.
1. Don’t say… “I know how you feel.”
The fact is, you probably don’t have a clue. Even if you’ve lost someone of your own, grief varies enormously from person to person, and there’s no way for you to know how your friend feels no matter how close you are.
Instead try… “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Sometimes when people grieve, they don’t even know how they feel—so don’t pretend you do. This acknowledges that you can be present and supportive for her no matter what, says Nancy Berns, associate professor of sociology at Drake University and author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.
2. Don’t say… “He was such a trooper. He fought the good fight.”
It makes sense that you would want to highlight how brave someone was in the face of illness, but statements like this imply that when someone dies, it’s because they didn’t fight hard enough, Nowinski says.
Instead try… talking about how he lived or how he coped
Nowinski suggests avoiding the “fight” or “battle” metaphor altogether. Instead, talk about how they “lived” or “coped” with the disease.
3. Don’t say… “He’s in a better place.”
Forgetting for a moment that your friend might not even believe in heaven, this kind of language doesn’t address her feelings of loss, says Dee L. Shepherd-Look, a professor of psychology at California State University, Northridge.
Instead try… “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Shepherd-Look suggests you avoid language that tries to make the person feel better and instead acknowledge her loss or celebrate the deceased’s life with words like, “I hope you’ll be comforted by your memories.”