What to avoid saying when someone has died

Posted: 21/02/2018

When a friend or family member loses someone close to them to death, it can be hard to know what to say. Some of the less socially aware of us can get extremely awarded and even make jokes where they are not welcome – not because we are bad people, but because we are genuinely confused as to how we are meant to react.

When someone we love is grieving we, naturally, want to help. If you are feeling helpless when it comes to this, we have some simple tips to aid you in finding the correct words to comfort and support your loved one in such a difficult time, without accidentally slipping up and saying something which may cause unintentional upset to them.

Phrases to avoid when someone dies

There are a few phrases which are commonly spoken in times of despair. However, some of them are simply not appropriate and seem extremely formulaic, which will make you seem less sincere and unaware of the depth of their pain. These include:

“Everything happens for a reason” or “there is a reason for everything”

This can come across as you feeling as though you have to rationalise or justify the reasons for their death or death in general, even. People who have lost someone will often not appreciate this as they will view the loss of their loved one as utterly senseless and completely unfair.

“I know how you feel”

Whilst this is clearly said with the intent of comforting a person who has lost someone, chances are you don’t know exactly how they feel. People deal with grief in a huge variety of ways: anger, sorrow, hopelessness, confusion, denial – the list goes on. Therefore, rather than stating you know how they feel (even if you think you do), encourage them to tell you how they feel so you can communicate with them correctly and talk through their feelings with them.

“At least they lived a long life”

This does not make a loss easier. Just because the someone they lost was elderly does not mean the sting of the loss is any less painful. In fact, if it is the case of someone losing their partner of decades and decades, the pain may even be far deeper rooted. They say losing a life-long partner is like losing a limb.

“You will get over it”

Whilst it is true that the loss is ultimately going to become easier to deal with as time goes on and their life continues without that person, it is not exactly right to say they will get over it – the death of a loved one will always be a part of your loved one’s life.

Furthermore, everyone grieves in their own time and in their own way – this can take weeks, months or even years, but it is personal to the person. Do not push a person and ask them if they are over the death at any point.

Instead, you should replace the above phrases with things like:

“I am here for you”

Your loved one needs to know that you are available for open communication about thoughts and feelings without feeling like an annoyance or a burden.

The person who has lost someone may not want to talk about it as it happens, but it is nice to assure you are there when they do feel ready to open up about the death. Furthermore, it can be very helpful to let people know when and where they can reach you if they want to talk.

“Is there anything I do for you?” or “anything I can help you with?”

Practical support can be just as useful and helpful as emotional support. Following a death, there are so many things that need to be considered and that need to be done. You can offer to help with everyday tasks like cooking, shopping, helping out with any children or pets and so on – this can really make a difference.

If you are still unsure as to how to start a conversation with a family member or friend who has suffered a loss, try sending a card, email or text. Then, this can be followed up when you see each other in person or over the phone.

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