The 5 things you should NEVER say after someone dies
The 5 things you should NEVER say after someone dies: Grief expert reveals why phrases such as ‘they’re at peace’ or ‘time is a healer’ could make things worse (and what you should say to be supportive)
- Grief expert at Sue Ryder has revealed how to best support a grieving loved one
- Said trying to ‘fix’ the issue with certain phrases could make matters worse
- Religion is tricky because even if the person believes, they may be angry
- Comparing their experience to someone else’s can make them feel inadequate
Comforting someone who is grieving is a huge difficult task for their loved ones who are often at a loss when it comes to finding the right words.
Now a grief expert has revealed the phrases that can be unhelpful and may even make things worse for the bereaved person by making them withdraw.
To mark Grief Awareness Week, Bianca Neumann, Head of Bereavement at Sue Ryder, the national bereavement charity, has revealed why saying the person’s loved one is ‘at peace’ is unhelpful, because it’s reflecting your opinion that they might not share.
And she warns against saying nothing at all because you feel awkward, saying that the bereaved person needs to have their loss acknowledged.
‘When someone dies, it can be hard to know what to say to those who were close to them,’ she said. ‘While each bereaved person’s experience will be different, these tips will give you guidance on what not to say when someone is grieving, as well as ideas for how to help them feel heard and supported.
Read on to find out the five things you should avoid saying to someone who is grieving, as well as the phrases that can be helpful.
A grief expert has revealed the phrases that can be unhelpful and may even make things worse for the bereaved person by making them withdraw (stock image)
Don’t say: ‘You must be feeling…’
Don’t make assumptions about how they feel – You may have experienced a loss in the past and believe you understand what someone is going through, but everyone experiences grief differently – including feelings of shock, sadness, pain, anger, guilt, anxiety, and numbness.
1. I’m sorry for your loss
When someone is grieving, it’s important to acknowledge what has happened and express your sympathy – this will reassure them that they don’t have to cope alone.
People usually appreciate receiving a thoughtful text message or, you could text first and follow up with card later too. This message can be simply conveyed by saying ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, or ‘I heard about your dad, I’m so sorry’.
Telling them you’re thinking of them can also be done months after the death when a bereaved person will have to deal with things like birthdays, Christmas, and holidays without their friend or relative for the first time.
2. I remember how…
Share a memory – If you knew the person who has died, you could share fond memories or, explain what that person meant to you. You might say something like, ‘I remember your mum’s brilliant speech at your wedding’, or ‘I’ll miss your grandad’s wonderful sense of humour’. Things like this can be a great comfort to grieving family members, but you may need to think about when and how to share them.
Think carefully before posting photos on social media as some family members may not want to talk about their loss publicly or may not want particular information to be shared with everyone.
3. Would you like to talk about it?
Many bereaved people say it helps to speak freely about how they’re feeling. Saying ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ gives them a chance to talk about their feelings and emotions if they feel comfortable to do so. Let them know you’re happy to listen to any feelings they want to share. If the person does not want to meet or talk, give them space to share their feelings without trying to fix things.
4. Do you need anything?
You may want to help but don’t know how. Ask the bereaved person if there is anything they need and let them know you’re ready to support them in any way possible. If they seem unsure, you could suggest specific things, from cooking them a meal or doing their shopping to helping with funeral arrangements. The bereaved person may feel unable to do the things they usually would, so this can reduce some of the pressure at a time when they are faced with lots of practical tasks.
5. Sometimes you don’t need to say anything
When you are with a bereaved person, take your cue from them in terms of how much they want to talk – some people find it too painful to talk about their passed friend or relative. It may be that just spending time quietly alongside someone can help them cope with their grief.
Therefore, give the bereaved person space to tell you how they are feeling, and avoid saying things like, ‘You must be feeling…’ or ‘I know exactly how you feel’.
Similarly, sometimes people appear to be coping after a loved one’s death when they’re in fact struggling, therefore keep checking in regularly.
Don’t say: At least they had a long life
Avoid trying to fix things – It can be tempting to try and make someone who is grieving feel better.
That’s why, if someone has died after a long illness, people might say things like, ‘It was for the best’, or ‘She’s at peace now’. When someone dies in old age, they may say, ‘At least he had a long life’, but statements like these aren’t always helpful.
The bereaved person might not feel the same way or find it comforting – leading to further isolation.
Don’t say: ‘You will heal’
Don’t tell them they will ‘heal’, ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’ – When someone is first bereaved, they may not be able to imagine a future without the person who has died. They might worry about their memories fading and find the idea of ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it’ very upsetting. People often say, ‘time is a healer’, but bereavement is more than just healing, it includes finding personal ways to live with grief.
Don’t say: How long it will take to grieve
Avoid setting expectations around how long grief will last – Most people find ways to cope with their grief and feel better over time.
But setting a specific timeframe – for example, by saying something like, ‘It took my uncle two years to recover after my aunt died’ – can make them feel as if they are failing if things don’t improve.
Whereas, in reality, the grieving process is different for everyone, and can take years – so instead, make sure they know you will be there for support, no matter how long it takes.
Don’t say: They’re in a better place now
Be careful talking about religious ideas. After someone dies, people sometimes say things like, ‘He’s in a better place now’, or ‘It was God’s will’.
But a bereaved person may not believe in God or may not agree. If they do believe, they may even feel God has taken their loved one and be angry.
When it comes to religion, be guided by things the bereaved person says and only mention it if it feels appropriate.
Sue Ryder is creating a national movement of kindness around grief which promotes open conversations about bereavement. To find out more visit sueryder.org/griefkind or to listen to their Grief Kind podcast visit http://podfollow.com/griefkind
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