Things not to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Whether its because you’re dwelling on your own problems and not thinking of your audience … or because you don’t know what to say, so you say something that makes you put your foot in your mouth … There are just certain things to avoid. Having lost my father a year ago, I’ve heard some doozies. Hopefully this gives you a bit of guidance in the future …
1. “I can’t stand my Mom” “I wish I had a different Dad” “I hate when my grandparents …”
No. Just no. If you’re lucky and blessed enough to have a parent (or both parents, or grandparents, or siblings, etc.) still living, I don’t want to hear it. Yes, you might have a tough relationship with one or the other … but that’s life. And I guarantee you, the nasty things you say about them will haunt you once they are gone from this world. You will regret every single word. So please, re-evaluate those thoughts before you unleash them to the public.
2. “Oh I’m so sorry … My dog just died … I know exactly how you feel”
Whaaaaat? Losing your dog, cat, rabbit, lizard, etc. does not in any way feel the same as losing a parent, a brother, a sister, a best friend. If you are tempted to use this line, exercise some restraint. A friend said this to me last summer and I’m still baffled by that moment.
3. “Your mom is still young … she can get remarried”
Someone actually said this to me a month after my father died. One month. ONE MONTH. Completely and utterly inappropriate. Save yourself and don’t even go there.
4. “My grandma has arthritis too … But she’s just fine …”
Another personal favorite. Your grandmother probably does not have Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatoid Arthritis isn’t regular old “arthritis”. It is a debilitating disease that can be deadly. Rheumatoid Arthritis causes your body literally to attack itself. In my father’s case, it was debilitating AND deadly. So while I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to relate, please be aware that my father’s case and your grandma’s case were not in any way similar. This can be true in many situations. Make sure that you have all of the facts and have a complete grasp on the situation before you chime in.
5. “Rheumatoid Arthritis? You can’t die from that. You can treat that with herbs and natural things.”
Especially now, with more medical knowledge, people diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis actually can be treated better & with less side effects. This can include a combination of heavy narcotics and natural/holistic medicines. My dad, however, had one of the worst cases his doctors had ever seen. And he did die from it. Do not tell me that it isn’t possible, because obviously it is. This goes for any disease – if someone comes to you with news that their parent, brother, sister, friend, etc. has been diagnosed with something serious, please do your research before diving in with criticism. Someone used this line on me last summer and I was at a complete loss for words at the lack of knowledge and compassion. Absolutely shocking.
6. “Pull yourself back up” “You’ll need to move on eventually” “I promise it gets better”
It doesn’t get better. I don’t need to move on. I don’t need to pull myself back up. These comments usually come from those who haven’t experienced loss. They are well intentioned, but out of line. Losing someone close to you leaves a void. It can literally feel like you have a hole punched through your chest or the space where your heart should be is completely hollow. It isn’t something that you can just get over or ignore.
Just a few brief thoughts. A little compassion and a little discretion go a long way. Think before you speak. Have some sympathy for the grieving. Losing a parent or a loved one is not something that you can understand until you yourself have experienced it. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t “get better” in the traditional sense, and you can’t force yourself to ignore your feelings and the emptiness. The best thing you can do, as a friend, is be supportive, pray, and let us grieve when we need to grieve. Has a friend of yours experienced a major loss? Did you notice they are having a bad day? Maybe bring a bottle of wine over to their house, hang out, and share stories. Know their loved one’s birthday is coming up? Or their anniversary, etc? Maybe just send a text or leave a voicemail to let them know that you remembered. You don’t always need to try to relate or try to understand … sometimes it is enough to just physically be there and let us know you care. Let us know that it is okay to cry, to be angry, to fall apart, and that you’ll be there to support us as we wrestle with these feelings.