When talking or writing to someone that has suffered a loss it can be hard to know what to say. When someone is grieving they are in a fragile state and so you want to make sure you don’t make it worse by saying something offensive.

But what is and isn’t acceptable?

Answering that is tricky. It could be different depending on the individual. Some people are going to find certain things upsetting that wouldn’t bother others.

Which means you need to really consider what you say or write, and base it on the individual it’s for.

Having said that, there are some definite phrases, sayings and words to avoid at all costs.

We’re going to go through the biggest and most offensive things not to say to someone grieving, showing you exactly what to steer clear of.

Each of them are inappropriate for their own reasons, which we’ll explain, and then offer some better alternatives.

Hopefully this will help you to feel more confident when reaching out to someone grieving.

The Worst Things to Say to Someone Grieving

This is just a quick list of the types of things to avoid saying. For why you shouldn’t say them and some good alternatives scroll down and we’ll take a closer look at each.

  • Everything happens for a reason
  • They are in a better place
  • At least they lived a full life
  • God wanted him/her to be with Him
  • I understand what you’re going through
  • They brought this on themselves
  • Time heals, just give it some time
  • You’re young enough to have another child
  • It’s been a while now, aren’t you over them yet
  • Stay busy, it’ll keep your mind off of it
  • Try to move on
  • It was only a dog/cat

Everything Happens for a Reason

The last thing anyone wants to hear is that there was a good reason for losing their loved one.

Nothing can explain or make sense of the death of someone special to us. There is no reason for it.

What you should say:

“I am so sorry for your loss” – its a tried and tested sentiment that shows empathy and people appreciate. If you would prefer a different phrase or wording then we have a guide to alternatives to ‘I’m sorry for your loss’.

They are in a Better Place

Yes, they may have been in pain or suffering but that doesn’t mean their loved ones will be happy or have wanted them to pass away.

The best place for them would to still be with their family and friends.

What you should say:

“I’m always just a phone call away” – offering your support when someone has experienced a bereavement is key to helping.

Knowing they have someone they can talk to or be there for them whilst struggling with grief is always going to be appreciated.

So if you can then do offer to be there in some way.

At Least they Lived a Full Life

The problem with saying this is that whilst it may seem like they lived a full life to you, it probably won’t to the bereaved.

Losing anyone special and close to you is always incredibly painful. Even if you’re prepared, expecting it or they’ve reached a good age.

Think about it: if you’re mom or dad lived to 120 years old, would you feel any less sad when they finally passed away?

When losing those most important to us there is never a good time. So even if they lived a rich and full life it won’t make the pain of that loss any less.

What you should say:

“My favorite memory of your loved one is” – sharing your favorite memory of the deceased is a lovely way to bring some positivity to the bereaved.

Remembering the good times you had with them and perhaps a funny story can offer a moment of relief. It’s not going to stop their pain but it can be helpful to reminisce on those happy memories.

God Wanted Him/Her to be with Him

There are two reasons why this is inappropriate.

1. Even if that were true, it doesn’t make it any less painful. You’re not going to feel less grief at losing someone special because God wanted them. That pain will still be very real.

2. Not everyone is religious. When talking to someone grieving it’s best to avoid anything to do with religion. Some people find it inappropriate if they themselves aren’t believers or have any faith.

What you should say:

If you are in doubt about the bereaved and their religious beliefs it’s far simpler to avoid religion, full stop. Mentioning it has the potential cause upset so it’s better to be safe than sorry in those circumstances.

I Understanding What You’re Going Through

Grief is a very individual experience and emotion. The way one person deals with and is affected by it will differ significantly from another.

Which is why even if you’ve gone through a similar loss you can never truly, fully understand what someone else is feeling.

You may have the best intentions when saying this. It can be an attempt to empathize and offer some comfort.

But the bereaved may feel differently, and not see it the same way.

What you should say:

“I can’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in any way I can” – this shows you can’t hope to understand what they’re going through but still want to do all you can to be there for them.

They Brought this on Themselves

This shouldn’t need much explanation as to why it’s a awful thing to say.

If someone has just lost a loved one then telling them the reason they died was there own fault isn’t going to be comforting. In fact it’s either going to cause them more distress or provoke a lot of anger.

It’s a heartless, callous and terrible thing to say to anyone.

What you should say:

“I wish my words could help, but please know how much I care” – words can be comforting but they can’t actually heal. So being aware of how little what you say can do is important.

A kind sentiment never hurts though so you can still show you’re sorry for what has happened whilst acknowledging how little that helps.

Time Heals, Just Give it Some Time

The problem with this is that time doesn’t necessarily heal. You still have to work through your grief, come to terms with it and accept what has happened.

Just assuming that because it’s been x number of months or years then they’ll be fine again is misguided.

Grief never truly leaves us, either. It’s always there, and you never get over a loss completely.

So whilst this may be well meaning you should try to avoid saying anything in relation to ‘giving it time’.

What you should say:

“This must be so hard for you. Take however long you need” – Recognising how difficult loss can be is great for the bereaved to hear. Knowing that people understand there’s not a quick fix solution and removing any pressure or timeframe to getting over it is also going to be hugely appreciated.

It’s about showing you comprehend how awful the process of grieving is and then being there for support.

You’re Young Enough to Have Another Child

But they don’t want another child, they want the child they lost. Just because there is still time for another doesn’t diminish the pain of losing a child.

Nor will it help by ‘looking on the bright side’. It’s a tragedy to lose a child under any circumstances.

What you should say:

Sometimes a hug is as good as words. It doesn’t always have to be something you say but something you do. Physical contact can be reassuring and comforting, so reaching out to offer a hug or a shoulder to cry on is definitely encouraged.

It’s Been a While Now, Aren’t you Over Them Yet

Much like time being a healer, just because a certain amount of time has passed doesn’t automatically mean someone will be ‘over’ their grief.

The pain can last for a considerable length, and you aren’t ever ‘over’ the loss of someone.

You learn to cope, to get by, the pain may lessen but you carry that person and their departure forever.

What you should say:

“You will be in my thoughts and prayers” – just knowing that friends or family are thinking of you after such a devastating loss can be comforting.

So make it known you will be wishing for them to find the strength and peace they need to get through this dreadful time.

Stay Busy, it’ll Keep your Mind Off of it

Many people find the idea of keeping busy or doing things whilst grieving uncomfortable. And often the pain can be so overwhelming that the idea of doing much virtually impossible.

So ‘staying busy’ has little use for many people grieving.

What you should say:

“At times like this all of us need help, and I am here whatever you need” – reassurance and making it clear you are there for them is the cornerstone of offering your condolences.

Not a lot more needs to be said than this.

Try to Move On

I’m sure if they were able to just move on they would have. People grieve because they have to, not by choice.

Putting pressure on someone to get past their grief in this way is only going to make things worse.

They need support and comfort, not being made to feel like once they reach a certain point or time they should be over it.

What you should say:

You don’t have to say anything. Often it just helps to have someone to listen or be by their side.

So don’t always feel the need to comment. Your presence alone can be as comforting as words.

It Was Only a Dog/Cat

Dogs, cats or any pet are just as important members of the family as anyone else. The bond owners have with their pets is extremely deep, so losing one is just as devastating.

That’s why saying something like “it was only a dog/cat/pet” is so insensitive. Maybe that’s all it would be to you, but to them they’re pet meant the world.

What you should say:

You need to put yourself in the shoes of the bereaved. If they’re dog or cat was that important then what you say should reflect that. Don’t be dismissive of their loss and the grief they’re feeling.

Try our pet condolence messages for some examples of what to say to someone mourning their lost animal friend.

Conclusion

It’s never easy trying to speak to someone dealing with a loss. It’s understandable that many of us feel worried we’re going to cause more upset or offence by saying the wrong thing.

But the fact that you’ve read this guide is a good sign. It shows awareness and concern for the well-being of the bereaved. Be that a friend, relative or just acquaintance.

Hopefully the examples and explanations provided here will have helped you to feel more confident with speaking to those grieving.

what not to say to someone grieving

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