Why is it that we have no idea what to say when someone dies? We fall back on platitudes that we know aren’t the right thing to say. Even worse, those
platitudes only add to the pain felt by those who are grieving. Your struggle in knowing what to say, and consequently, frequently saying the wrong thing, comes not from your own grief. It comes from your desire to avoid your own feelings of discomfort.
The best thing to say when someone dies isn’t something you say to those who are grieving, it’s something you say to yourself. To understand why that’s so, you have to take a step back and recognize your own feelings about the situation. Yes, you may also be grieving that death. But the feeling that is getting in your way is not grief. The feeling that is preventing you from knowing the right thing to say is discomfort with others’ pain.
To be able to say what you really want to say, you have to first learn how to live with your own discomfort in the face of others’ outward expression of suffering.
Once you understand how to deal with your discomfort, you’ll find it much easier to know the right thing to say when someone dies.
Living in Your Discomfort Zone
If you were taught as a child to not express to others when you are feeling bad or hurting (“Stop your crying!”), or to not share information about bad things happening in your family (“Don’t tell the neighbors Daddy lost his job.”), you probably find it very difficult to watch or listen to others express their grief. You feel a great deal of discomfort and you want to stop your discomfort by stopping their behavior. That’s when you find yourself saying things like, “it’s for the best,” or worse, you instruct them to alter their current behavior, with directives like, “you must be strong.”
Neither of these is the least bit useful to the person who is grieving. In failing to acknowledge their pain, you’re causing them more pain.
Expand Your Comfort Zone
There is a better way to end your discomfort: Stop resisting the reality that others are experiencing the pain of grief. Instead, let yourself be okay with their pain and their tears.
When you’re feeling your own discomfort about their grief, don’t ignore or dismiss it, take a minute to acknowledge it to yourself and to accept your feelings as legitimate. (How can your feelings be anything but legitimate?)
The best thing to say when someone dies is something you say to yourself: “I am feeling uncomfortable witnessing others’ tears and pain, and it is okay to feel this way.”
Let it be okay that you are feeling the discomfort of being with others who are physically and verbally expressing their pain.
Allow yourself the gift of living in your discomfort zone. This is the place where change and growth happen for you.
When you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, and learn how to give in to that feeling without trying to change it or ignore it, you will find it much easier to comfort others in their grief.
In time, with some practice, you will get used to the idea that you can be okay with witnessing others’ grief. It helps when you can tell yourself that the grieving person’s pain is more important, and more severe, than your own fear and discomfort. Your discomfort will go away. That’s when it will become easier for you to acknowledge and express the truth of their pain and grief situation.
Until then, feel free to refer to my blog post on the right thing to say when someone dies, Also read the blogs that I’ve listed below, they are filled with examples of what to say when your friends or acquaintances are experiencing grief.
Live Honest, Open, and True
It’s hard to experience others’ grief. When you can be comfortable being uncomfortable in this situation, it is easier to resist the urge to tell others to hide their pain. Today, choose to be okay with others’ grief and pain as an expression of their love.