What Not To Say To Someone In Grief

Table of Contents

Most of us face grief at some point in our lifetime. We lose people we love. Or we are called to support people who grieve.

One of the four pillars of life vision is love. Grief is love with nowhere to go. We feel grief when we lose someone we love.

Unfortunately, nobody teaches us how to handle grief or how to support someone grieving.

In this article, I share what not to do when you want to support a person in grief.

Despite their good intentions, people often unknowingly make matters worse. Here are nine things not to do when you are supporting someone in grief.


1. Don’t ask how it happened

Death is often traumatic. Especially when it is unexpected, accidental, or is death of a young person.

When you ask how it happened, you are asking someone to relive one of the most traumatic events of their life to satisfy your curiosity. You are potentially retraumatizing them.

It is understandable that you want to know. Your brain wants to scan your environment for dangers to ensure your and your loved ones’ safety.

If the grieving person wants to tell you how it happened, they will. But if they don’t, keep your curiosity in check and don’t ask.


2. Don’t disappear

Please don’t disappear unless the grieving person has asked you for space in a specific way, e.g. “Do not text me.”

Even a message of “thinking of you” or “sending you love” can do wonders.

The person in grief can feel alone against insufferable pain. Just be there. Do not expect a reply. Don’t give up if you do not get a reply.

Don’t be concerned about bothering them.

It might be understandable that you want to take some space to protect your energetic frequency from deep pain. But there is no need to worry about that.

There is no higher frequency than love. When you love someone through the toughest times of their lives, you are not lowering your vibration; you are raising it.

If you do not want to be a listening ear because you are afraid it will trigger your own unprocessed traumas, you can offer practical help instead.

But, if you love the grieving person, do not disappear.


3. Don’t try to fix the unfixable

You need to be able to witness the other person’s pain without trying to fix it or get rid of it. Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is a burden to be carried and a pain to be experienced.

You cannot bring their loved one back. Do not try to find a silver lining. In general, if you find yourself saying a statement with the words “at least,” stop.

Here are some examples: “At least you had x many years with them.” Well, the grieving person wanted more. “At least you still have this person left.” Nobody can replace the person who left.

“They will live in your heart.” “I would prefer them living in the world, not in my heart, thank you very much,” the grieving person is thinking.

Don’t try to fix it. Just witness the grief. That’s what is required of you.

And it is a hard one because we all learned to be problem-solvers.


4. Do not say, “I am here for whatever you need”

By offering support in such a general way, you are asking the grieving person to identify their need, identify the right person to fulfill that need, and then find the energy and courage to contact this person to make the ask. The grieving person is unable to do all that.

Offer specific help: babysit the kids, walk the dog, help with the practicalities of the funeral or memorial, hire a lawyer to handle the paperwork, find them a grief counselor, or offer to let other people know so that the grieving person does not have to.

Or say: I am here for a call, or a walk, or a swim. And say it often. In their grief, they won’t remember your offer from a couple of weeks ago.

Be specific. Anticipate the need instead of asking the grieving person to make decisions.


5. Don’t judge the way they grieve

Everybody grieves in a unique way, just like everybody loves in a unique way. You might think they are being overdramatic or not dramatic enough.

You might think you would react differently in their place. Let’s hope you won’t have to find out how you would react. Accept their grief as it is without judging it.

Do not pressure them to be strong. Do not judge them if they laugh.

Also, do not comment on their appearance or how they are doing. If your comments are positive, it might feel to them like you are accusing them of not grieving their loved one enough.

If your comment is negative, it will potentially make them feel worse.

A huge no-no is to judge any of the things they did with their loved ones when they were alive. Grief often includes guilt, so anything you say that can feed into their guilt is a big no-no.

Also, do not say, “I admire you, or I find it inspirational how you are holding on; I do not think I could do it.” They have no other choice. That does not mean they are not in pain.

In general, keep judgments for yourself when you are dealing with a grieving person.


6. Don’t make it about you

You might also be distressed about the death. Show your compassion. But be careful not to make it about you and your feelings, and the grieving person needs to start consoling you.

Avoid comparing what you have lost in the past with what they have lost. This is not a competition. You do not need to compare losses or griefs. You just need to be present for their grief.

Also, don’t ever say, “I know exactly how you feel.” Even if you experienced a similar loss, you don’t know how they feel.

That said, feel free to mention if you experienced a similar loss and leave it up to the grieving person to ask you questions about it.


7. Do not move the conversation to the future

When someone is in deep pain and grief, they are just trying to survive today. Stay with them in the present.

They might not be ready to hear that it gets easier or that they will be fine. It might feel like a betrayal of their loved one at this moment.

Nor they might want to hear that the pain never leaves; they will just learn to live with it. This can cause quite a despair when they struggle to make it through the day.

Stay with them in the now. “It hurts. It sucks. I am here.”


8. Don’t ask, “How are you?”

This is one of the worst questions to ask someone who is grieving. They are awful; that is how they are.

“How are you today?” is better, as it acknowledges that grief has ebbs and flows. Or, “How is your grief today?”

Do not ignore the elephant in the room, which is their loss. You might be afraid to upset them if you are the first to mention it, but if it is a recent loss, it is not like they have forgotten it. Signal that it is OK with you to talk about it.


9. Do not try to impose your spiritual beliefs

Even though the intention of this one is to console, it often misses the mark. People will often say, ” They are at a better place,” “They are in heaven,” “They became an angel and they are protecting you now,” “They will reincarnate,” or whatever they believe about the afterlife.

It is usually not helpful, especially if the grieving person does not share those beliefs. Instead, be curious and ask them what they believe happens after death.

Nobody knows for sure, so an exploration can be more useful than affirmations.


Conclusion

If you care for a grieving person, I hope you have learned something useful. If you are a grieving person, you might want to send this article to your loved ones.

Grief is one of the most painful experiences of our lives, and it can only be carried when we are supported by love.

It is not a problem to be solved. It is not something to wipe under the carpet. It is something to experience, and it is part of the human condition.

If you are grieving, be gentle with yourself. If you care for someone grieving, be gentle with yourself too. This is heavy work.

We found ourselves in this pain because we love. But if we did not love, we wouldn’t really live, would we?


Download my free guide with the 10 Powerful Mindset Shifts To Achieve Your Vision.

Discover:
What are the 10 telltale signs that you are living your vision?
What are the 3 things you might think you need for success but you really don’t.
The 10 mindset shifts all my clients who enjoy success in all areas of their lives have made.

Link here.

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Caterina Kostoula

Caterina Kostoula is an executive coach and founder of The Leaderpath.

Her mission is to coach pioneering leaders for impact and fulfilment.

She has worked as a Global Business Leader at Google where she was
also a 5-star rated internal coach. She has coached leaders and teams from Google, Amazon, Stripe and Workable, as well as a number of startups.

Caterina teaches the popular Life Vision Programme at INSEAD Business School.

Her work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and Thrive Global. Her best-selling book, “Hold Successful Meetings”, was published by Penguin in 2021. Her TEDx talk is called “Do your goals prevent your success?”

Education

– MSc in Executive Coaching from Ashridge Business School (EMCC-accredited)

– INSEAD MBA

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What Not To Say To Someone In Grief

Most of us face grief at some point in our lifetime. We lose people we love. Or we are called to support people who grieve.

One of the four pillars of life vision is love. Grief is love with nowhere to go. We feel grief when we lose someone we love.

Unfortunately, nobody teaches us how to handle grief or how to support someone grieving.

In this article, I share what not to do when you want to support a person in grief.

Despite their good intentions, people often unknowingly make matters worse. Here are nine things not to do when you are supporting someone in grief.


1. Don’t ask how it happened

Death is often traumatic. Especially when it is unexpected, accidental, or is death of a young person.

When you ask how it happened, you are asking someone to relive one of the most traumatic events of their life to satisfy your curiosity. You are potentially retraumatizing them.

It is understandable that you want to know. Your brain wants to scan your environment for dangers to ensure your and your loved ones’ safety.

If the grieving person wants to tell you how it happened, they will. But if they don’t, keep your curiosity in check and don’t ask.


2. Don’t disappear

Please don’t disappear unless the grieving person has asked you for space in a specific way, e.g. “Do not text me.”

Even a message of “thinking of you” or “sending you love” can do wonders.

The person in grief can feel alone against insufferable pain. Just be there. Do not expect a reply. Don’t give up if you do not get a reply.

Don’t be concerned about bothering them.

It might be understandable that you want to take some space to protect your energetic frequency from deep pain. But there is no need to worry about that.

There is no higher frequency than love. When you love someone through the toughest times of their lives, you are not lowering your vibration; you are raising it.

If you do not want to be a listening ear because you are afraid it will trigger your own unprocessed traumas, you can offer practical help instead.

But, if you love the grieving person, do not disappear.


3. Don’t try to fix the unfixable

You need to be able to witness the other person’s pain without trying to fix it or get rid of it. Grief is not a problem to be solved. It is a burden to be carried and a pain to be experienced.

You cannot bring their loved one back. Do not try to find a silver lining. In general, if you find yourself saying a statement with the words “at least,” stop.

Here are some examples: “At least you had x many years with them.” Well, the grieving person wanted more. “At least you still have this person left.” Nobody can replace the person who left.

“They will live in your heart.” “I would prefer them living in the world, not in my heart, thank you very much,” the grieving person is thinking.

Don’t try to fix it. Just witness the grief. That’s what is required of you.

And it is a hard one because we all learned to be problem-solvers.


4. Do not say, “I am here for whatever you need”

By offering support in such a general way, you are asking the grieving person to identify their need, identify the right person to fulfill that need, and then find the energy and courage to contact this person to make the ask. The grieving person is unable to do all that.

Offer specific help: babysit the kids, walk the dog, help with the practicalities of the funeral or memorial, hire a lawyer to handle the paperwork, find them a grief counselor, or offer to let other people know so that the grieving person does not have to.

Or say: I am here for a call, or a walk, or a swim. And say it often. In their grief, they won’t remember your offer from a couple of weeks ago.

Be specific. Anticipate the need instead of asking the grieving person to make decisions.


5. Don’t judge the way they grieve

Everybody grieves in a unique way, just like everybody loves in a unique way. You might think they are being overdramatic or not dramatic enough.

You might think you would react differently in their place. Let’s hope you won’t have to find out how you would react. Accept their grief as it is without judging it.

Do not pressure them to be strong. Do not judge them if they laugh.

Also, do not comment on their appearance or how they are doing. If your comments are positive, it might feel to them like you are accusing them of not grieving their loved one enough.

If your comment is negative, it will potentially make them feel worse.

A huge no-no is to judge any of the things they did with their loved ones when they were alive. Grief often includes guilt, so anything you say that can feed into their guilt is a big no-no.

Also, do not say, “I admire you, or I find it inspirational how you are holding on; I do not think I could do it.” They have no other choice. That does not mean they are not in pain.

In general, keep judgments for yourself when you are dealing with a grieving person.


6. Don’t make it about you

You might also be distressed about the death. Show your compassion. But be careful not to make it about you and your feelings, and the grieving person needs to start consoling you.

Avoid comparing what you have lost in the past with what they have lost. This is not a competition. You do not need to compare losses or griefs. You just need to be present for their grief.

Also, don’t ever say, “I know exactly how you feel.” Even if you experienced a similar loss, you don’t know how they feel.

That said, feel free to mention if you experienced a similar loss and leave it up to the grieving person to ask you questions about it.


7. Do not move the conversation to the future

When someone is in deep pain and grief, they are just trying to survive today. Stay with them in the present.

They might not be ready to hear that it gets easier or that they will be fine. It might feel like a betrayal of their loved one at this moment.

Nor they might want to hear that the pain never leaves; they will just learn to live with it. This can cause quite a despair when they struggle to make it through the day.

Stay with them in the now. “It hurts. It sucks. I am here.”


8. Don’t ask, “How are you?”

This is one of the worst questions to ask someone who is grieving. They are awful; that is how they are.

“How are you today?” is better, as it acknowledges that grief has ebbs and flows. Or, “How is your grief today?”

Do not ignore the elephant in the room, which is their loss. You might be afraid to upset them if you are the first to mention it, but if it is a recent loss, it is not like they have forgotten it. Signal that it is OK with you to talk about it.


9. Do not try to impose your spiritual beliefs

Even though the intention of this one is to console, it often misses the mark. People will often say, ” They are at a better place,” “They are in heaven,” “They became an angel and they are protecting you now,” “They will reincarnate,” or whatever they believe about the afterlife.

It is usually not helpful, especially if the grieving person does not share those beliefs. Instead, be curious and ask them what they believe happens after death.

Nobody knows for sure, so an exploration can be more useful than affirmations.


Conclusion

If you care for a grieving person, I hope you have learned something useful. If you are a grieving person, you might want to send this article to your loved ones.

Grief is one of the most painful experiences of our lives, and it can only be carried when we are supported by love.

It is not a problem to be solved. It is not something to wipe under the carpet. It is something to experience, and it is part of the human condition.

If you are grieving, be gentle with yourself. If you care for someone grieving, be gentle with yourself too. This is heavy work.

We found ourselves in this pain because we love. But if we did not love, we wouldn’t really live, would we?


Download my free guide with the 10 Powerful Mindset Shifts To Achieve Your Vision.

Discover:
What are the 10 telltale signs that you are living your vision?
What are the 3 things you might think you need for success but you really don’t.
The 10 mindset shifts all my clients who enjoy success in all areas of their lives have made.

Link here.