Most of us have experienced grief on some level—whether it be a death, a serious health condition, or even the loss of a pet. There are many reasons to grieve and all are legitimate. And, we all grieve differently. Sometimes in an attempt to say something meaningful or comforting, people will say things to us that frankly makes us want to smack them, because the things they say are no comfort at all, but can be insulting, ill-timed, or just plain ridiculous.
Since none of us wants to be that person who says those things, I’ve compiled a list of things I’ve heard over the years that we should avoid saying. Remember, if you can’t find the right words, its best to sit in silence and let your presence be enough.
When grieving the death of a loved one:
1. God needed him/her more than you.
Really? God is not selfish! He doesn’t allow people to die because He needs them. He’s God, after all. He doesn’t need anything.
2. God needed a flower in His garden.
This one is perhaps the most insensitive one I’ve ever heard, and it was said to a friend who had lost a baby. There is nothing right or accurate about that statement. See number one on this list, and remember that God created all the flowers in the first place.
3. He/She is an angel in heaven now.
While there is a lot wrong with this statement, I’ll just leave it at saying that people who die don’t become angels. Angels are created beings that begin as angels. When we leave this world it is to be wholly who God created us to be, humans with a new and eternal life.
4. Time will help you heal.
Yes and no. Time does ease the pain, but how much time is needed? Is there an appropriate length of time as to how long someone should grieve? What about when special events occur that make you miss your loved one all over again? Time does help, but the pain never completely goes away. Hopefully, we learn to cope with it better along the way.
When grieving the loss of health:
1. You should try (insert treatment here).
Your friend or loved one is likely under the care of a doctor. Don’t assume you know more or better than a highly trained professional.
2. If you had only done (insert thing), this wouldn’t have happened.
See number 1. Don’t pile on guilt, even if what you’re thinking is true. Say something encouraging instead.
3. Come on … let’s go! Get out of the house.
Perhaps getting out of the house sounds wonderful to the person whose health is failing, but it isn’t as easy as it used to be. While some encouragement in this area may be helpful, tread lightly and don’t be too insistent.
4. In time, you’ll feel better.
Maybe. Maybe not. Some conditions progressively improve while others worsen over time. Whichever is the case for your loved one let them to know you’re here to help.
When grieving the loss of a job:
1. You’re boss was a jerk anyway.
That may not be the case. Maybe the person was laid off, the business closed, or they were a poor performer. Don’t make assumptions and fuel unwarranted anger.
2. Now you can do anything you want.
Not to be a Debbie-downer, but that isn’t necessarily true. While new doors may open, training, education, experience, and many other factors play into what a person is qualified to do next.
3. Hold out for a better opportunity.
It’s always been my opinion that some money coming in is better than no money coming in. Don’t encourage what may be a bad financial move.
4. How are you going to make it now?
Why assume the terminated employee has no emergency funds or severance? They may be better off than you think, and, at any rate, is that really anyone else’s business?
When grieving the loss of a pet:
1. It was only a dog, cat, etc.
Family pets can be precious to their owners. Experiencing their death can be very traumatic, especially if the pet was a service animal, had been with the family for many years, or was a companion for a homebound person. Their grief is real, so please don’t downplay it.
2. Criticize their method of “disposal.”
Some people will bury their pets and some will cremate them. It’s their choice and no one else should question them.
3. You should have tried…(insert expensive life-support-method here).
While we love our pets, it’s rare that much can be done to spare their lives when they are diagnosed with certain diseases or conditions. Treatments can be very expensive and only prolong the inevitable.
4. Encourage them to get another pet right away.
Allow them time to grieve the pet they just lost. Substituting a new pet for the old is not a fix for the pain people feel.
It’s difficult to watch someone we care about deal with grief. We want to fix them; help them feel better quickly. But sometimes our good intentions can get in the way of what the person really needs. Simply being present, helping out (house cleaning, shopping, babysitting, cooking, mowing a lawn, etc.), sending an encouraging card or email, or giving a hug can speak volumes.
You’ll also like Practical Tips for When Your Loved One is Terminally Ill, When Dreams Die: Grieving What Should Have Been, Grieving Through the Holidays and Still Celebrating (Video) and The Don’ts That We Do When Others are Hurting.