10 Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief
Don’t ask, just help.
Published: July 30, 2010
Finding the right words to say to a grieving friend.
One of the mistakes we make is asking people in deep grief how we can help them. They are often too lost in their own sorrow to identify needs. It’s okay to ask; but just know you can step in and help.
For instance, if it’s after the funeral at a reception and the trash needs to be taken out – don’t ask, just help. In the old days we would gather around the loved one and just do things for them. Bring over some food so that they don’t have to cook but can still eat well. You probably know their life—offer to pick up the kids, help them with their yard, offer to take them on errands.
Keep in mind when trying to find the right words to say to someone in grief—context, timing and who is saying them is everything!
The Worst Things to Say to Someone in Grief
- At least she lived a long life, many people die young.
- He is in a better place.
- She brought this on herself.
- There is a reason for everything.
- Aren’t you over him yet, he has been dead for awhile now.
- You can have another child still.
- She was such a good person God wanted her to be with him.
- I know how you feel.
- She did what she came here to do and it was her time to go.
- Be strong.
The Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief
- I am so sorry for your loss.
- I wish I had the right words, just know I care.
- I don’t know how you feel, but I am here to help in anyway I can.
- You and your loved one will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- My favorite memory of your loved one is….
- I am always just a phone call away.
- Give a hug instead of saying something.
- We all need help at times like this, I am here for you.
- I am usually up early or late, if you need anything.
- Saying nothing, just be with the person.
Many of us have said “The Best” and “The Worst.” We meant no harm. In fact, we meant just the opposite. We were trying to comfort. A grieving person may say one of the worst ones about themselves and it’s okay. It may make sense for a member of the clergy to say, “He is in a better place” when someone comes to them for guidance; whereas an acquaintance saying it may not feel good.
Here are some of the traits that make the best, “The Best” and the worst, “The Worst”
Traits of the Worst Ones
- They want to fix the loss.
- They are about our discomfort.
- They are directive in nature.
- They rationalize or try to explain loss.
- They may be judgmental.
- Not about griever.
- May minimize the loss.
- Put a timeline on loss.
Traits of the Best Ones
- They are supportive, but are not trying to fix it.
- It’s about feelings.
- They are nonactive, not telling anyone what to do.
- They are admitting that they can’t make it better.
- They are not asking for something or someone to change feelings.
- They recognize the loss.
- There are no time limits.
In the final analysis, one thing is clear to me: Life ends, but love is eternal.
David Kessler is one of the most well-known experts and lecturers on grief and loss. He co-authored two bestsellers with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: On Grief and Grieving and Life Lessons. (David was honored to have been at Elisabeth’s bedside during her passing.) His first book, The Needs of the Dying, a #1 best-selling hospice book, received praise by Mother Teresa. His services have been used by Elizabeth Taylor, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Marianne Williamson when their loved ones faced life-challenging illnesses. He also worked with late actors Anthony Perkins and Michael Landon. David’s work has been featured on CNN, NBC, PBS, and Entertainment Tonight; and he has been interviewed on Oprah & Friends. He has been discussed in the New York Times; and has written for the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, and Anderson Cooper 360.