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11 Things Not To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

This week on Her Campus CCCU our theme is: ‘stress’. As part of this week we’re covering a major source of stress (especially when combined with university deadlines) grief.

Both of us have recently lost someone very close to us, and have noticed a few reoccurring phrases from well-wishers that just don’t make sense. We understand that those sending their love with these phrases do mean the best, but we just want to explain why their choice of words may not have been ideal.

So we’ve made this list of what not to say to someone who’s grieving to help you out:

1)      Sorry for your loss.

This phrase just sounds like you’re responsible in some way, you’re not. The word ‘sorry’ is an apology and an apology is “a regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure.” Basically, there’s nothing for you to apologise for.

2)      Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

This one kind of depends on the circumstances, but usually there is nothing you can do. Sometimes this can be received wrongly, as everyone grieves in their own way. This could make the recipient of your well-wishing angry, with thoughts like ‘you can’t do anything, you can’t change it’.

3)      Hope you’re okay.

Obviously somebody who is grieving is not okay. In their eyes nothing is okay. Asking somebody who is grieving if they’re okay is only going to warrant sarcastic, rude and even false responses. Just show or tell them (using a phrase that isn’t in this list) that you are there for them.

4)      How are you coping?

How do you think? Again, silly questions could warrant sarcastic answers. Perhaps just spend some time with them and try to gage for yourself how they are.

Like we’ve said, everybody grieves differently – while some people want to be treated like normal others may just want to be left alone – and for some people this could change day by day.

5)      Things could be worse.

As we said in point number 3 ‘in their eyes nothing is okay’. Yes, perhaps there may be people in worse situations, but right now this is the worst situation for them to be in. When somebody is grieving you need to allow them some time to be selfish and reflect on their own situation and their own needs, in order for them to work on feeling ‘normal’ again.

6)      You look tired, maybe you should go home?

Even at the best of times, this isn’t a nice thing to hear. But when you are stressed or grieving, the last thing you want to hear is “you look tired”, especially when you’ve made the effort to crawl out of bed and face the world. It’s also probably the first time they’ve been able to wear make-up without crying it all off. So, if you know they’re going through something, maybe don’t comment on their exhaustion.

7)      I can’t believe you came into Uni/work the week it happened.

We can’t reiterate enough how much grief varies from person to person, so commenting on how they’re handling it isn’t the best idea. For every person who would rather be at home, there are those who would rather keep themselves busy by working or going into lectures.

8)      Sorry to hear this.

Similar to point number 1, except this one sounds more like you’re apologising that you’ve found out about our recent loss – would you rather not know?

9)      Cheer up.

This phrase along with the many versions heard by grievers from ‘stay happy’ to ‘pick yourself up and keep on going’ are just all kinds of wrong.

When you’re grieving it’s not as easy as just snapping out of it, they’re going to be sad and you’re going to have to be there for them or it’ll affect your friendship long after the ‘grieving process’ is over.

10)   It’s okay to cry.

Is it? Well thanks for letting me know and for giving me your permission – some phrases just warrant sarcasm.

As we cannot express enough – everybody grieves differently. Maybe they’re not crying right now because they don’t want to seem weak or want to appear strong for someone else, so they’re saving it up until they’re alone, maybe they are too exhausted to cry, maybe they’re crying non-stop – every single one of these are perfectly acceptable.

11)  I just don’t know what to say to you.

You don’t need to know what to say, you just need to be there. As we’re expressing in this article, it’s pretty difficult to find the right words anyway.

First year Midwifery student, Emily Hague, says “I didn’t want anyone to say anything because all I could respond with was a fake smile and thank you, which was exhausting. If I wanted to talk I would. Just give me a hug and food!”

Finding the right words in any situation isn’t easy, especially when someone is grieving. Your words often depend on the person you’re saying them to, but ultimately saying something is better than not acknowledging them at all. Whether you just post a love heart on their Facebook wall or have a long and meaningful chat, we hope you’re able to find the right words for them.

Remember though, everybody experiences grief differently so this list in not definitive!

We’re thinking of you.  

Shelby is a graduate in Creative and Professional Writing who is still trying to hold onto student life by living in a student house, continuing to write for Her Campus and living on cereal. Shelby is writing about the scariness of graduate life on her blog, every day: gradualrealities.wordpress.com
I'm a 20 year old self-published author who blogs a lot and drinks far too much tea! Melissa Holden's Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/MelissaHoldenWriter Melissa Holden's Amazon Page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Melissa-Holden/e/B00GSL71SE/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416236950&sr=8-1
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