What Not to Say When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love
Nobody gets out of this life alive, and nobody gets out of this life without losing people we love. Because death is so much a part of this life, you’d think we’d all be well-versed in how to deal with grief and loss, but that is not always the case.
So often, we don’t know what to say or do when someone dies. Dealing with death is a skill we all need to develop and grow, because it’s going to come up again and again and again. Here are few things not to say (along with some better options) when someone you love loses someone they love.
How are you doing?
It is instinctive to ask this question, but when someone is grieving, we already know the answer. Acknowledge the struggle.
Better option: I know it’s really hard right now.
It will be okay.
No. It won’t be okay. At least not for awhile and possibly a very long while.
Better option: This really sucks, and I’m here to help you in any way I can. (use language appropriate to the person)
Everything happens for a reason.
No, everything does not happen for a reason. There are freak accidents. Bizarre coincidences. Random circumstances that create unexpected situations. We want there to be a reason for everything…but sometimes there just isn’t one.
Better option: I’m so sorry this happened.
It was God’s will.
This statement paints God out to be a supernatural being who plucks our loved ones out of our lives at will. God doesn’t will accidents to happen or cancer to end young lives or angry young men to pick up guns and start shooting. This explanation goes back to needing a reason, but let’s not blame tragedies, illness or accidents on God. Not only is it not theologically sound, it can damage a person’s relationship with God at a time when they need God most.
I understand how you feel, I …
No, you don’t understand how that person feels (even if you have suffered a similar loss), because everyone grieves differently.
Better option: I don’t know how you’re feeling, but I lost my (mother/husband/best friend) too, and I’m here to listen.
_____________ is in a better place.
This may be true, but it is not helpful. When you’re grieving, you don’t really care if someone is in a better place. All you really care about is that they are not here…with you…right now.
Better option: I hope your faith (if talking with a person of faith) will bring you comfort and peace in the days to come.
S/he was just too good for this world. Related: God needed another angel
This is bad theology on so many levels. It implies that if you want to keep on living, it’s dangerous to be too good. And it paints God as being kind of a selfish jerk who plucks all the great people out of this life and away from their family and friends because God feels like it.
Let me know what I can do.
This is another natural thing to say, but people who are grieving are overwhelmed, and this statement puts yet another responsibility on them–to ask for help.
Better option: “I’m bringing you a meal. Is Thursday or Friday good?” or “I can come over and do the laundry tomorrow afternoon. Does that work or is another time better?”
Of course, often, the best thing you can do for someone who is grieving doesn’t come in words, but in your presence. Show up. Give hugs. Hold hands. Wash dishes. Swap stories about the deceased and cry and laugh together. Know that while grief isn’t God’s will, God will be right there in the midst of it all.
Rev. Anne Russ is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), currently based in New York City. Doubting Believer is an online, inclusive and progressive Christian community. Follow us on Facebook and get emails to keep up with all that is happening.