What to Say (Or Not) To Someone Who’s Grieving

Knowing the right thing to say to a friend or coworker who has experienced a personal loss doesn’t come easily. It’s a skill we’re not taught, as many societies generally avoid talking about death and grieving. And the less experience we’ve had with these situations, the less obvious it is whether we’re helping or hurting. In a recent New York Times “Crowdwise” column, David Pogue offers the following pointers, “brought to you by people who’ve been on the receiving end”:

● Don’t talk about how someone’s loss affects you (“I could never handle what you’re going through.”)

● Don’t talk about the “bright side” (“At least she didn’t suffer.”)

● Offering your beliefs about God and heaven to a nonreligious person who doesn’t share your beliefs can backfire.

● Don’t tell a grieving person how to feel; whatever they are feeling is okay and they have a right to their emotions.

What should you say instead? “I wish I had the right words;” “I know how much you loved her;” or, simply, “I’m so sorry” are appropriate. If you knew the person well, telling the mourner a story about their loved one can be a great gift—especially at a time when they thought there would be no more stories.

From the Glasers