It’s hard to see a friend hurting after a loss. After someone we know suffers a profound loss, our instinct is to help, to fix, to make all the hurt go away. But the truth is, there is no way to cure the grief that is born of loss. There are no words that will fix the heartache.
After my husband died, friends and family surrounded me. They handed me glasses of wine and bottles of water and made sure my kids and I ate on a regular schedule. But they couldn’t make any of it better.
Often, though, they could make it worse. By accident, with the best of intentions, they might say the things—the platitudes—that are often relied on in times of grief when there’s nothing else to say. But those sentences often left me feeling like my grief was either wholly misunderstood or wholly over-the-top and inappropriate, and it’s time to retire those platitudes.
Everything happens for a reason.
Never—never, ever, ever—say this line to a grieving person. It may be true. It may not be. The truth of the statement is wholly irrelevant. Loss is loss. It is, and it hurts. It exists whether or not a grand plan or lesson exists. The sentence “everything happens for a reason” unintentionally diminishes the pain of the loss.
He/She is in a better place now.
Again, maybe true, maybe not. But this isn’t helpful to a griever, who wants their person there with them. Maybe it was selfish, but when I was told that phrase, I didn’t want my husband in a better place. I wanted him here with me. I prefer to believe my person would rather be with me, suffer here with me, than in any other “better place,” too.
At least they didn’t suffer. At least they aren’t in pain anymore. At least it wasn’t sudden. At least you got a long time together.
All “at least” statements should be retired. On the surface they seem helpful and I’m sure they are coming from a good, kind place. But in actuality, “at least” statements tend to minimize and compare grief, and subtly, subconsciously let the griever know they shouldn’t be hurting as much as they’re hurting.
Time heals all wounds.
Time does many things when it comes to grief. It makes the pain less razor sharp. As time passes, the weight of grief lightens and it often becomes easier to breathe. But the wound hasn’t healed. It’s there, liable to reopen because of the smallest reminder. Wounds don’t need to heal. They are simply become a part of who a grieving person is.
You’re so strong.
Often when I heard this statement, I felt my weakest and therefore felt unseen. Many times the grieving person just has no choice but to do the next thing that needs to be done. It’s not strength. It’s something else just as valid and valuable.
I don’t know how you do it/I couldn’t do it if I were you.
This one is the worst offender, in my personal opinion. It implies that maybe the griever didn’t love as hard as you would have loved the person lost. It tells the griever that you have no idea how in any given moment you can be at once “doing” and falling apart because that is the only choice.
They would want you to be happy.
No doubt this is true. But this saying inadvertently tells the griever they shouldn’t feel sad or lost or whatever they are feeling because you believe they should feel happy.
You’re young and you can find someone new.
People aren’t replaceable. Even if I do “find someone new,” the loss hasn’t disappeared.
It’ll get better.
It will, but saying that to someone in the storm of grief minimizes the pain they are in at that moment.
When I lost my…
Everyone has a loss story. Everyone’ story is valid and should be told. But there are moments when it’s time to give the spotlight to someone else’s story of grief or loss. Let the griever’s loss exist without comparing your own. Give the griever space for their own story.
Let me know if you want to talk. Let me know if you need help.
So well-intentioned, and so completely unhelpful. In those earliest days of grief, it’s hard to think through the next heartbeat, the next breath. Anything that puts the onus on the griever becomes another “to-do” they can’t think through. If you want to help, send a text to check in. Show up with a meal. Don’t ask, just do.
Kids are resilient.
They are. I have a few thousand stories that can attest to the truth of that statement. But it doesn’t make it better when you’re watching your child hurt, trying to understand the permanence of death.
I am intimately acquainted with grief and yet, in the face of someone else’s grief, I’m still at a loss for words. The instinct to rely on old, well-worn phrases when I’m not sure what to say is always there. But those statements all tend to minimize someone’s pain, to invalidate the heartache. Instead, tell the grieving person that you love them, that you hear them, that you know this is hard. If that fails, sometimes the best option is to say nothing. Often just sitting next to someone grieving can do more to calm an aching heart than any platitude. In the earliest days, often that was all I wanted and all I could manage.
Platitudes are easy. Silence is hard. Most people don’t speak a platitude with bad intentions. But the more we begin to understand grief, the more responsibility we have to avoid falling back on phrases that hurt more than they help.