12 Thoughtless Things People Say When Someone Dies

Somewhere in our upbringing many of us were taught to not talk about death, and when death happens, to not talk about our feelings of loss.

An indoor columbarium niche wall of recessed compartments holding urns.

Chances are good that by the time the memorial service ends, the family and closest friends will have heard several thoughtless comments that people say when someone dies.

 

As a logical consequence, when someone dies, we have no idea what to say. So in a well-meaning but ignorant effort to provide comfort, or out of our own discomfort with silence or with the emotional pain of the loss, we open our mouth and insert our foot.

Sadly, ignorance is endlessly creative, and so there are far more than a dozen ways to be thoughtless with our words and inflict pain instead of bringing comfort and consolation. I picked these 12 things to not say when someone dies because I think they are the most likely ones we mistakenly believe are actually helpful.

If any of these sound sickeningly familiar to you, don’t panic. In the future, choose different words. And always, always remember that when you really do not know what to say, a hug, a hand on the shoulder, a kind deed, or simply being present will always bring comfort.

I know how you feel.

You can’t possibly. You’re you, you’re not the bereaved. You might know how you would feel having lost the same kind of relationship. Even so, not only is it impossible to compare losses, it serves no purpose other than to put the attention on you. 

She fought hard but lost her battle.

A positive mental outlook, bravery and wanting to live are not sufficient for overcoming a deadly disease or traumatic injury. This statement blames the deceased for not trying hard enough or not wanting to live strongly enough to succeed.

She’s in a better place.

Even if the two of you share the same religious views, it’s pretty tough to convince someone he is better off without her in his life.

He lived a long, full life.

The length or quality of life does not diminish the feeling of loss. Nor is it your place to sit in judgment of another person’s quantity or quality of life.

You need to be strong.

This kind of statement serves to bottle up emotions or deny them. Neither is helpful to a person who must journey through grief and learn to live a new kind of normal life. The people for whom the bereaved ‘needs’ to be strong are better served by witnessing the honest emotions of loss.

How is your family taking this?

Asking this question about how others feel without first inquiring how the person you’re talking to feels is tantamount to saying the others’ feelings are more important or their grief is expected to be greater. 

Everything happens for a reason.

Yes, death always has a medical reason. A cosmic plan reason? I’m not qualified to say, and neither are you.

Don’t dwell on it.

What you’re really saying is that her grief, her loss, is unbearable for you to think about. You’re also attempting to dictate that her grief journey be completed on your timeline, not her own.

You’re still young.

What usually follows this meaningless statement is advice to ‘find’ another spouse or to give birth to another child. Those things may happen in due course, but they are not a substitute for the spouse or child who has just died. This comment diminishes the relationship and value of the person who has died. It also attempts to put the person’s grief recovery on your timeline.

At least you were prepared.

Even when the survivors have acknowledged death was inevitable, and perhaps had time to say good-bye, that knowledge does nothing to lessen the pain of the loss.

At least she did not suffer.

A sudden, unexpected death eliminates suffering for the one who died, but does nothing for the suffering of the survivors.

Now you’ll have closure.

What exactly has closed and in what way is this good?

Knowing what to say and how to say it is not easy. The right words bring comfort to someone who is grieving. Further, by showing respect for the one who has died and for the feelings of the bereaved, you are showing yourself to be a person of integrity.

Life Is Honest, Open and True: There are many words we can say when someone dies that will comfort those who are grieving. The key is to keep our focus on the person we’re speaking to and his or her emotions and situation. With practice, we learn to be comfortable with grief, with being present in the moment, and with expressing ideas that previously were foreign to us.

Related Posts: Handling Death and Grief

The Right Thing to Say When Someone Dies

What Remains After Hope is Gone

A New Way to Look at Grieving

 

20 Comments

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20 Responses to 12 Thoughtless Things People Say When Someone Dies

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  5. Cindy Powers

    Maire .you were blessed to have 2parents that bought you into this workd.Now you have to be stronge for your self and your son .god bless

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  12. Ali Tobia

    Really beautiful post D’Anne

  13. Peggy Woosnam

    Parents who lose a child don’t want to hear “you can have other children.” Doesn’t matter how many kids you have, you are always aware that someone is missing from the dinner table.

  14. Great list Patronizing as hell, most of them. I read the last paragraph, but you know what would be challenging? 12 thoughtful things. I really don’t think people know what to say during those times. 😉

  15. MJstillhoping

    I hope it’s okay that I reposted this to my blog! It’s perfect for what I’ve been experiencing due to my Mom’s illness. Thank you for this post!

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