what to say to a grieving person

What Not to Say to a Grieving Person

I lost my dad in 2017. September 29, 2017. It was a hellish time for me and my family. I got a text from my brother John. “We’ve got dad in an ambulance. Think he’s had a stroke.”

So I flew to Chicagoland. Went to the hospital everyday. We all took turns sleeping there. Just waiting for him to wake up. Some doctors said they had the answer & all would be well. The next doctors said, “it’s over.” It went like that for 10 days. Up & down on the worst roller coaster of all time.

I remained positive. I wanted to give him a feeding tube (since he was unconscious and couldn’t eat or drink). I wanted things to be different.

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What not to say to a grieving person

You’ll tell me negative things shouldn’t stand out in my mind but this one nurse who was there was educating me about dying. I was saying things like, “let’s give him a feeding tube” and she kept lecturing me that people who are dying don’t want to eat. I was confused, blurred in my mind, so instead of replying to her I just felt angry. But later I realized what I should’ve said: “He doesn’t not WANT to eat he’s fricking unconscious, you stupid bitch!”

Then when the holy person* came in to give him his last rites or say a prayer, right in the middle of the so-called prayer she mentioned someone else in the hospital who lost a child to cancer. I stopped her right there and said, “no way, you can’t make us feel guilty about losing my dad, no way!” She back-pedaled immediately like the experienced professional she was and said, “oh yes, you knew him for longer so it’s harder.” Well the damage is done. We feel guilty. Thanks.

Wouldn't you rather be the person whom people remember fondly from a difficult time in their past? Click To Tweet

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What to say to a grieving person

Right now I say, “f-you” to both of those bitches and the bitch doctors too. Learn how to communicate with people who are going through a hard time! Because you don’t know how. Wouldn’t you rather be the person whom people remember appreciatively from a difficult time in their past?! Right now I’d rather be telling you a story about the people who said the right things to me. The people who didn’t make my pain worse.

Make a point of learning what to say to people. At all times. When they're grieving. When they're wanting to buy something, when they're happy… Click To Tweet

You’re only doing a very small part of your job if you can’t communicate with your patients. How can you live your life? You tell someone that an unconscious person doesn’t want to eat?! He wanted to eat before he became unconscious!! How do you know what he wants?!

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What to say in general

Make a point of learning what to say to people. At all times. When they’re grieving. When they’re wanting to buy something-I don’t care. Work on your ability to communicate! If you don’t want to learn something new then when faced with a grieving person just shut your trap.

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Some Things You Can Say to a Grieving Person

Now that I’ve stopped crying and cursing I’ll go back to my professional self. So here are some things you can say to a grieving person.

“I’m sorry for your loss. I know you’re in a lot of pain.”

“I’m here for you if you want to talk, be quiet or just cry.”

“Just wanted to reach out and let you know I’m thinking of you. Your dad seemed like a special man.”

“I brought some tissues & 2 bottles of red wine.”

“My thoughts & prayers are with you.”

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We don’t even need words to speak to a grieving person.

Or at least spoken words. You can communicate your message of sympathy & love with a card. I received a most amazing card from my dear friend, Hitha, who lost her dad about a year prior to my losing mine. Her words were so beautiful, meaning & touching. I still have it on my desk. But just the act of receiving a card is comforting. You don’t need to be as eloquent as Hitha.

Here’s a no-word option. Send a grieving person a care package. Shopping for food, getting meals ready, going out in public–all things that may be difficult for a grieving person. When you receive your care package of snacks, wine, meats & cheeses, not only does it make your life easier but it warms your heart as a suffering person.

What do you think we should say to a grieving person?

I would love to hear your stories. I want to hear the good, the bad and the ugly.* Please share your experiences. What do you think people should say to a grieving person? Has anyone ever said the right thing to you? The wrong thing?

*Do I sound bitter? Well I am. But I mean no disrespect to holy people.

*I owe my dad a quarter. We owed a quarter to the hackneyed jar. Any over-used or trite expressions What to say to a grieving person

costed us! Luckily inflation didn’t apply.

All apologies for the extra exclamation points. But I am shouting.

I love you dad.
miss you grandpa

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17 thoughts on “What Not to Say to a Grieving Person”

  1. I applaud you and your stance for taking to task, those “professionals” who should, but don’t, act better! Each family, individual and circumstance is fluid and unique. Deserving of compassion, not just for the patient, but sometimes even more so to the loved ones who must be ministered to. As we fight for every last dignified breath of our loved one, the last thing we need to do is fight the professionals, who should and need to do do a better job! I say, good article. Rest in peace to your Dad and my family members, Godspeed.

    1. Took my a while to reply, I guess, Debbie, sorry about that! Thank you so much for your comment, sympathy and applause. I do appreciate it. –Ita

  2. Ita, thank you for your honesty. I am sorry for your loss of your Dad and for the experience you had during a horribly difficult time. Totally agree, people need to be trained if you work in a field where you are in contact with people during these situations. When my Dad was in the hospital before his death from cancer 19 years ago (still can’t wrap my head around it being that long ago) there were amazing nurses and a few complete bitches. I too wished I had given one in particular a verbal lashing, but my Dad, ever the gentleman said, let it go. Same when my Mom died. I am grateful for those kind, uplifting professionals who helped make a painful time more bearable. One of my Mom’s last requests was that we, my siblings and myself show gratitude toward the hospital staff that showed her kindness, which we did. If only every person in the medical field had the training necessary to lighten the load, not add to it. My hugs & prayers to you today!

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Ita. I lost my Dad in 2017, too. I had a negative encounter with someone close whom I expected to be a huge support during this time, but instead really shocked me with intruding and second guessing the plans my Dad had arranged for this situation, and also sharing somebody else’s story of a family death — someone I didn’t even know, and it didn’t even make sense to talk about it. It also bothered me terribly when others would talk about Dad like he wasn’t even there. Just seemed so disrespectful. First time I’ve dealt with this situation, so I know I didn’t handle things the best either. But I do feel like a veil has been lifted for me in terms of relating with people who go through this now. I used to think I could empathize with others about this, but I now know I really had no idea.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Jason. I know it sucks. And I’m really sorry that your friend let you down. All that disrespect puts an extra negative spin on an already heart-wrenching situation. Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m on your side. We are in the same club. And we can support each other. Sending you love & light. Me & little Miles will add you & your dad to our night-time prayers. Reach out any time.

    2. Thank you Jason, for sharing your story. I’m sorry for your loss of your amazing dad. And that you didn’t get the expected support of your friend, Must’ve made it extra hard for you. How are you doing now?

  4. Apparently I said the “right” thing to a friend not to long ago. Basically I told her I didn’t know what she was going through nor did I have anything inspirational to say but that I could be a shoulder whenever she needed it. She said it meant a lot to her. Absolutely NEVER say, “The Lord wanted him up in heaven with him.” UGH

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope that warm memories bring you some comfort during this difficult time.

    There are a few things that people say that I absolutely hate. I have to believe that they are well-intentioned, and are said when people just don’t know what to say. “They are in a better place.” and “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” Don’t make me try and figure out how you can be of assistance. I don’t want tomato another decision. Just do something, or express your sympathy. I really enjoyed hearing other people talk about my dad, even those I had never met before he died. It reminded me of all that I loved about him, and reinforced that he was just who he was.

    You will never stop missing him, but I promise that every day won’t always feel as raw as it does now. I take my dad with me by remembering the kind person he was and incorporating that into my daily life. You will find a way to honor your dad that is all your own.

  6. I lost my dad in 2013…I was far away from him when it happened and drove 13 hours the next day, alone, with just my thoughts. It was the toughest and most mind blowing drive I’ll never forget. That when I showed up, after this drive, after my thoughts, he won’t be there to greet me…that why I’m driving is to see him dead in a coffin…then see him buried ina cold, deep hole. And people said stupid shit constantly, I was called in my cell the whole ride back to NY, I didn’t take one call…except from my wife. I thought the ride there was bad, the ride home was worth, I couldn’t get the vision of my dad laying in that coffin…it typically takes 12 hours to drive home…it took me at least 20…cause I would stop and just cry. From now on when I hear someone’s parent has passed, all I say is…”I’m sorry”. That’s it, there is nothing I feel that needs to be said…because it’s short and tells the person really how you feel. So with that, “I’m sorry”, I remember your dad, you and your family were a part of my life and a good part. Time makes things bearable…not better, but bearable and you will think of him every day…which I think is a good thing…means he made a great impact on your life. I’m sorry.

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss my good friend. I’m also sorry you had to deal with caregivers who should possibly consider a different career choice!

    I lost my father when I was 19. My grandmother when I was 32 and my uncle when I was 34. It doesn’t matter if you had a day with a loved one or decades. It’s never easy and always hurts far worse than you think it will. The grieving process is different for everyone and can take a very long to get over. No one should ever discount your feelings!

    Love you Ita. Always here!

  8. I’m so very sorry for your loss. I was fortunate to have a loving staff at Hospice when I loss my mother to cancer in 05. I too received the most heart warming card that was better than any response I received. I loss my grandfather in a fishing accident when I was young and most recently I loss my uncle who was my favorite person and the most caring/giving. He was a rock to me. We all grieve in different ways and try to find our peace. Ita, you spoke your true feelings about your experience. Shame on those professionals. My family is Irish and have always used humor to cope. It’s an healthy outlet. Thank you very much.

    1. Thank you so much, Dave. Your comment means a lot to me. I’m so sorry for all of your losses. Wow, that’s tough! We are Irish, too so I’ll try to find the humor in it all. –Ita

  9. Dear Ita,
    You must have reposted this, as I am seeing it now in May of 2019.
    I hope and trust that your mourning has evolved into a softer, more bearable pain.

    I lost both parents and my closest grandparents one after the other in two years. I never got the desperately needed one-year of mourning for each loss; not until it was all over and I was left lost and bereft. I heard more of my fair share of ridiculous comments and idiotically phrased comforts. But also there were friends, family, and strangers who said just the right things.

    During these losses, I myself was called as the “holy person” to officiate at my family funerals and memorials. I was the one who believed in some divine purpose, many thought. I was the strong one. I would find the right words. I didn’t always, though. I blundered and bumbled, too.

    I realized that nobody says the right things all the time because those who mourn are always in a different place – at a different level of acceptance – needing different things, even compared to whatever they needed five minutes ago.

    I swore to be the person who accepts that whatever a person says they mean well. I want to not judge people because they are ill-informed or unlucky in their choice of words, or because they cannot understand what I need in that very delicate, impossible moment.

    Even the caretakers, who by profession “should” know how to behave, what to say. Well, they don’t know me – and even if they do, they wouldn’t know the me that has emerged through my inexplicable pain.

    So that’s it, my lesson for myself. Mourning of our parents never really ends. And nobody can understand what you’re feeling in your heart. For me, the best comfort has been a hug: a long embrace while the sobbing subsides.

    But I realize not everyone needs or wants that. I didn’t even want that, many days. Who knows what’s best?

    Thanks for the opportunity to work that one out, so many years after the fact.

    -Lisa

  10. I came across this article today and it resonated with me because I lost my mum 4 months ago. She was comatose for most of the 27 days she was in the hospital. Even during the early days, when we still had high hopes for her recovery, people came or called to narrate tales about the last days of their departed relatives. Everyday, I would get many phone calls asking me how she was doing and while it broke my heart to say that she wasn’t doing well at all, they would probe further and say this was exactly what had happened with another departed person. Sometimes, I hadn’t the strength to answer these calls and they admonished me for not picking up the phone! It was as if they were doing the right thing by calling to ask about her condition and I was doing the wrong thing by not answering them. I know they meant well and I don’t know what is the right thing to do under the circumstances.

    1. Oh Sonia! I’m so sorry you lost your mum! And I’m so sorry that people were demanding answers! That’s just insensitive. Sending you love and prayers during this very difficult time.
      Ita

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