Don’t say this to grieving loved ones. Say this instead:

August 10, 2017

condolencesHave you ever struggled with giving condolences? Me, too.

Grief is intimidating to see. Part of it is that we know we’ll feel it one day for someone we love–or we’ve already felt it–and that reminder can be painful. Well-meaning friends and relatives can often trip on themselves when trying to give comfort.  We don’t face the concept of death very often, most of us, so it’s no wonder awkward condolences are pretty common.

But no harm is meant.  No matter how it comes out of their mouths, it’s meant to comfort.  So here are some things you may not want to say to a grieving loved one, and then, I’ll give you a simple, no-fail, comforting sentence.

I know how you feel.

You don’t. I don’t. No one knows how someone else feels, even if they’ve gone through the same thing. Because grief is as individual as people are. Everyone grieves differently, so it’s impossible to know how another feels.

At least she’s in a better place.  

That may very well be true, and many do believe it, but the truth is that most of us would far prefer for our loved ones to still be here, with us. Of course, we don’t want them to suffer, but the “better place” concept is best saved for a time when grief is not so raw and only for someone with whom you share a spiritual bond.

It’s God’s will.

Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t–we don’t know because we don’t have a hotline to God. Either way I guarantee you that it’s not something most mourning families want to hear. Very few people are comforted by the idea that God chose to take a loved one prematurely. Or at all.

This, too, will pass.  

It won’t. That’s the thing. Losing a loved one drills a hole in our hearts that stays forever. Sure, grief transforms, but it never passes. Sometimes, it cycles. I can go weeks without tearing up and then, as happened this week, I think of her and the tears come. That heart-hole is real. Grief doesn’t pass. Those are realities.

Others have gone through this and survived.

It’s absolutely true. And it is absolutely no comfort. This is an observation best left for mourners to discover, themselves. People mean to be helpful, but it comes across as cold and uncaring.

Time will heal.

Not really. See “This, too, will pass” above.

So, how do we keep from upsetting a grieving loved one?

This is all you have to say:

“I am so sorry for your loss.”

That’s all it takes. I’m sorry. That, and a hug, if appropriate. Then, let them say what they need to. Or if they’re silent, that’s ok, too. You don’t need to fill the silence. Just a touch of the hand, deep eye contact, a comforting look. That’s all.

Later, a sympathy card with a kind note is appropriate. If you knew the person who died, you might share a happy memory: “I remember how Uncle Jack would take us for rides in the summer. He was always so good to us kids.”

And of course,if you’re distant from the loved one and would like to send a gift, I hope you will consider my beautiful and affordable condolence packages. 

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35 comments on “Don’t say this to grieving loved ones. Say this instead:
  1. Anosa says:

    I too struggle with what to say during such a time and often trip over myself and just make sure I am there and rarely say anything

  2. Alli Smith says:

    I cringe every time I hear someone say, “I know how you feel.” No, you don’t. Sometimes we just need to be quiet, listen, and help out in any way we can.

  3. candy says:

    Thank goodness I have been saying the correct thing. Never knew what to say and my mother told me in was okay to say this.

  4. Anita says:

    I almost teared up after reading your post. Everything you said was spot on! I know some people don’t mean any harm, but it’s really important for us to really consider the things we are about to say BEFORE we say it.

  5. Shirley Wood says:

    I like to stick with the ‘so sorry for your loss’ statement too for all the same reasons you mentioned. I believe we really never get over losing that special person but in time we begin to learn how to live our life without them.

  6. Jeanette says:

    You hit the nail right on the head! There is times that I don’t know what exactly to say, but I try hard not to fall into the category of what is in this post! I think the best thing people can do is just let the other person grieve and be there as they do that.

  7. Sarah Bailey says:

    Sometimes by trying to say the right thing you can say completely the wrong thing, it is good to be reminded of things that perhaps aren’t quite the right things to say at hard times.

  8. Linda Luke says:

    I wish I had read this post years ago. I’ve learned the hard way to just express that I am sorry and then sit with the person quietly for a while.

  9. Oh goodness yes. I’m so sorry is just about the only thing I would ever say – always from the heart.

  10. penpen says:

    What to say, what to write in condolence is such a challenge. We want to let the person know we care about them. I have an acquaintance–a woman I used to work with–whose daughter died recently. I heard from mutual friends how much she resented people saying, I know how you feel.” As you note, we don’t know how she feels, even if we’ve been through it. Your suggestion–I’m sorry about your loss”–is the perfect response.

  11. lisa says:

    I am terrible at condolences. The only thing I seem to be good at is saying I’m sorry for your loss. I can never seem to come up with anything better and I give big hugs. I always hope that’s enough.

  12. Barbara says:

    Your points are spot on. The only difference, I feel, is when an elderly parent or family member, who has been struggling to hang on for no apparent reason, finally let’s go. My father-in-law had a very nice life, in spite of out living his wife by 30 years. We went through all the stages of helping him in subtle ways. First, we moved him near us. Then we bought a triplex so he could be close enough to keep an eye on but not living ‘with’ us. Finally, for his final 3 years, he was in assisted living, which in my opinion, is some sort of purgatory. My personal motto is, “Never outlive my usefulness”.
    Didn’t mean to run on but, your post struck a chord with me.

  13. Cheryl says:

    I always struggle with the right words when it comes to condolences. Over time I’ve used “sorry for your loss” exclusively. It’s simple and lets people know that you still care.

  14. I agree with just saying how sorry you are. I’ve been through a great loss and just having someone to come sit with me was enough. And no, you don’t get over it!

  15. Ricki says:

    “There are no words besides I’m sorry for your loss.”
    “Don’t let anyone tell you how to handle your grief. Everyone finds their way to their new normal in their own way and in their own time.”

  16. Scott says:

    Sometimes is it best to just say “I’m sorry” and let the person grieve on their own. We all grieve differently, and you never know how to react.

  17. Mary says:

    I try to stick with I’m sorry for your loss. I definitely will be taking your suggestions on the other things to say.

  18. “You don’t have to fill the silence.” Yes, this so important. The silence is where the deepest feelings are and that could be why it makes people unsure.

  19. This is a very helpful post. I’d say the worst thing to say is nothing followed by “I know how you feel.” We all grieve in different ways and feel pain differently so I agree “I’m sorry for your loss.” is the way to offer condolences. Thank you for sharing this.

  20. Ronnie says:

    I wish this was common knowledge.. people say the wrong thing at such an awkward thing, when really the most comforting words are simply offering your condolences. After her husband passed away, someone told my friend to take advantage of his death to go out on trips and enjoy herself… such a wrong thing to say upon her husband’s loss.

  21. Elizabeth O says:

    For me, Saying those words is really important to our grieving love ones. Those specific words can’t stop their grieving,In fact in the moment of grieving, anyone is being like crazy, they will not understand what we are going to say, but one thing for sure, they will know that we are on their side,and they know also that we are expressing our sympathy, which is the most important thing for them.

  22. I recently had a personal tragedy and when people told me that maybe things were meant to be that way or said that it was God’s will I felt anger rather than comfort. In reality, the pain cannot be taken away, it’s just good to have somewhere there to listen and and physicially be present.

  23. adriana says:

    Oh this is so helpful. I am so not good at coming up with things to say in hard situations like this. It’s never easy, but being able to say anything that is comforting in such a hard time for someone is really important. Thank you for writing this!

  24. I certainly remember having to deal with all of those things from time to time. I mean hearing all of those platitudes. My problem with them though wasn’t that I believed they were untrue. My problem with those sentiments was because they were lazy and not really displaying of care and concern that you might have for me. That’s where I had the problem with those platitudes.

  25. Joanne says:

    And my all time least favorite: God never gives you more than you can handle. The next person who says that to me is going to get slapped.

  26. Rosey says:

    I just went through these procedures. An uncle everyone loved passed, and I really wanted to be there for my aunt but we’re in separate states

  27. NIkka SHae says:

    You make some valid points, I just keep them in my prayers for heeling and peace.

  28. Dogvills says:

    This is a very helpful post. When I have to write on a card or something, I always use “My deepest condolences.” But if I have to say it in person, I always say, “I am so sorry for your loss” and give that person a hug. It is more sincere and definitely conveys a message that they are loved.

  29. Stephen Parry says:

    This post has been so helpful to me! Thank you so much for sharing such amazing advice all the time 🙂

  30. Oh yes all we have to say is Sorry for your loss. And all you have to do is pray for their souls.

  31. Kelly Reci says:

    Expressing sympathy to our love ones is very important. Even without saying a word, the important is our presence on the time of grieving.

  32. Rebecca Swenor says:

    This is a great post and I just lost my dog who was a very big part of my life. I truly believe saying I am sorry and a hug is really all anyone needs when they loose a loved one. Thanks for sharing these awesome tips.

  33. I love your simple yet heartfelt reply and I will use it from now on. You’re right, we don’t know how someone feels when they experience a loss.

  34. Lea says:

    How true this is, all of it. It can be so hard to find the right words.

    When my father passed away many years ago I remember a dear friend who lived far away calling and leaving a message. I could feel when I listened to the message how he was trying desperately to say the right thing and didn’t know what to say. I could tell how much he loved my father and how he wanted to comfort me and my husband – in spite of tripping over his words. It was so sweet and was a comfort to me.

    Another friend asked what she could do to help me. Nothing was my answer. I appreciated her heartfelt desire to help but what could she do? Then she asked if she could make phone calls for me. You know I was in such a state that I don’t think I would have called everyone to let them know what happened, when the services were, etc. Her simple question and offer was appreciated more than I can say. So I took her up on her offer.

    Lastly, somone who I thought loved my father said “Oh well at least now you don’t have to take care of him anymore.” I felt as if I had just been punched in the stomach. It was a physicla feeling. He was never a burden and it was my honor to care of him (he had Alzheimer’s.) But I knewI had to forgive her comment and I did. Sometimes people just stick their foot in their mouth. I know I have a time or 2 in my life. I was just saddened to discover she didn’t love my father the way I thought she did.

  35. Thank you Carol! People find it so uncomfortable when someone is grieving. They don’t know what to say and sometimes there are no words. Sorry and a hug can mean so much at such a sad time. #overthemoon link party.

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