When you are trying to comfort a bereaved friend, words do not always come easily. Sometimes your heart is in the right place, but your words… well they may do more harm than good if you are not careful.
Whether you are attending a funeral for a relative, a loved one of one of your close friend’s or some other acquaintance, it is important to keep in mind how impactful words can be during this sensitive time. The person who lost that loved one will be dealing with a lot; obviously the grief from losing a person they loved, potentially the stresses of organizing and preparing for the memorial services and the anticipation and dread of all that comes after the funeral.
A simple wordless hug or double handed shake (gripping their hand with both of yours) will say everything that is necessary until you get your thoughts together and make a follow-up call. Or write a note offering a favorite memory of the deceased.
The list below from funeralwise.com offers 8 things that you should consider NEVER saying to the bereaved and some recommendations on what to say instead.
1. “It was a blessing.”
From whose perspective? It’s not yours to judge. A comment like that should only come from the bereaved themselves. A heartfelt “you are so brave” or something similar is all that is needed.
2. “He is no longer suffering.”
You might be able to get away with these types of phrases when someone’s pet passes away but they are cold comfort to someone who is experiencing a loved one’s loss. If it is a close friend, saying something like, “it must have been so hard to see her suffer,” or “I’m so sorry you didn’t get to say goodbye” show more understanding.
3. "I know how you feel."
Often the next sentence is something like “my beloved Fido died last week.” Even if your friend lost a spouse and so did you, you can’t possibly know exactly how she feels. Acknowledge that her feelings are as unique as she is. “I can’t begin to know how you feel, but I’m here to listen,” is far more comforting.
4. "You must be strong for…"
The bereaved person needs time to grieve, and if grieving means periods of time as a weeping mess, that is okay! It is better to offer to help out that friend by offering to help out with the kids or to take car of a pet so they have the freedom to grieve.
5. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Right now your friend probably thinks this is way more than they can handle, and your platitudes aren’t helping. Specific offers of help are better. “If you find that you can’t handle [mowing the lawn] [grocery shopping] [taking the kids to little league] please call me so I can help. Here is my number.”
6. “Everything happens for a reason.”
As nice as it sounds, it simply is not true; tragedies large and small often have no rhyme or reason. Even if the reason becomes clear afterward, leave it to the bereaved to come to that conclusion. Right now, it is fine to just say, “I sure don’t understand God’s reason behind this, but if you want to talk about how you are felling, please call me.”
7. “You have plenty of time for more…”
Ouch… Do you really think that is on his or her mind at the moment? Give your friend the months or years to decide whether it is okay to think about having another spouse or child. If you must say something, it is okay to say, “No matter how young a person is, losing a beloved spouse is a terrible tragedy. I’m so sorry.”
8. “It was her time.”
Apparently, it was but your reminder of our mortality will not be welcome. Your fiend undoubtedly wanted far more time with the deceased then they were allotted. Instead, “Her time on this earth was far too short, and she will be sorely missed” conveys your understanding and sympathy.