There is nothing wrong with trying to comfort the bereaved, but making them feel better is not possible. A grieving person simply wants their grief to be acknowledged and witnessed, not fixed. They have permission to be sad, angry, distracted and confused.
There are phrases used commonly in an effort to comfort a bereaved person, but even with the best of intentions, these words can be hurtful, as they inadvertently minimize and diminish the griever’s feelings.
WHAT NOT TO SAY
They are in a better place.
They lived a long life.
At least they are no longer suffering.
You’ll get over it.
Shouldn’t you be over it by now?
I know exactly how you feel.
ALSO NOT HELPFUL
You should be over this by now.
Time heals all wounds.
If you’re not crying, you’re not really grieving.
Real men shouldn’t cry.
WHAT TO SAY
I’m sorry that you are having to navigate this.
My condolences for your loss.
I love you.
I don’t know what to say except I’m here for you.
How do you want me to support you?
There are many commonly held myths and misunderstandings about grief, which can present significant barriers to someone who is grieving. But when we understand the needs of those who are experiencing this painful but inescapable unbinding of the heart, we will likely be more mindful with our words.
As much as words are important, know that your mere presence in the midst of their sorrow can be just the comfort they need.
BEREAVEMENT NETWORK OF HAWAI‘I
Facilitated by KOKUA MAU (501(c) 3 nonprofit)
808-585-9977 | kokuamau.org
Learn more about grief and the healing process: Help For The Bereaved — The Healing Journey (kokuamau.org/wp-content/uploads/CtrOnAging-Booklet-5-REV_6-30-11.pdf).