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Grieving and Loss: The Stupid S**T people say to the grieving

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Based on some of the things that were said to my middle brother and me at both funerals, we decided that one day we’d write a book entitled “Stupid S*** You Don’t Say to the Grieving

This blog is a little different from others I have written because I have asked

a friend and mentor Dr. Ken Hollis to contribute to this blog. While sitting in

Dr. Hollis'office grieving the loss of my granddaughter, I began to talk about

the well-meaning but hurtful advice, words of condolences, and words of sympathy that people say to the grieving family at funerals. Dr. Hollis and I started to discuss a book idea that he has about the stupid s**t people say to those who are grieving. This rolled over in my mind and I decided to make this the topic of this blog to go with my grieving series.

I hope this blog will help to comfort those of you that are grieving and in a way that does not cause more harm. If you are not the one grieving, but instead you are supporting someone that is going through the grieving process then this blog will help you to understand the mindset of someone that is in emotional pain.

Please, be careful what you say

By Dr. Ken Hollis Ph.D., LMFT

Like many of you, at this point in my life, I’ve had a great deal of experience with grief. Professionally, as a pastor of 35 years, I’ve ministered to more grieving families and conducted more funerals than I could possibly count. Personally, I’ve preached the funerals of numerous aunts and uncles, both parents, and my youngest brother who was the victim of violence.

My most intense period of grief occurred in 2012. My mother died unexpectedly in June, and three months later, my youngest brother was murdered.

I preached both funerals. Based on some of the things that were said to my middle brother and me at both funerals, we decided that one day

we’d write a book entitled “Stupid S*** You Don’t Say to the Grieving”. This is part of our list.

  • Don’t say “I know exactly how you feel”. You don’t! Grief is an intensely personal experience, everyone’s grief is unique

  • Don’t make it about you! This is a continuation of “I know exactly how you feel”. I lost track of the number of people who used my mother's and brother’s funeral to tell me about someone they lost. Remember that you’re there for the person who has just lost a loved one; they’re not there for you!

  • Don’t say anything that begins with the phrase “at least”. I hear this a lot! “At least they didn’t suffer; at least you have other children; at least they’re in heaven”. For someone who’s grieving, the phrase “at least” sounds like you’re minimizing their loss

  • Don’t talk about how everything will soon be back to normal because it won’t. When you lose someone, your life will never be normal again, because that person was part of your “normal”. Grieving people are learning how to build a new normal without the person they lost being part of it.

  • Don’t blame God! As a minister, this is extremely personal to me. I’ve lost track of the number of people I’ve heard say, or the number of people who said to me, “God has a plan; God has a purpose; God has a reason”. To the person who’s grieving, you just told them that God killed their loved one. It’s really hard to tell someone that the same God who caused the death of their loved one is the same God they should turn to for comfort. (God’s role in death is a deep philosophical and theological question, and much too intense for a blog. However, whatever you believe about God’s role in death, be careful that you don’t blame God).

Here is what I’ve learned about grief

  1. You can’t explain death, so don’t try!

  2. Hugs are powerful!

  3. The best words are “I love you, I’m praying for you, and I’m here when you need me (of course, if you’re going to say those things, you actually have to pray for them and you actually have to be there when they need you).

  4. Meet practical needs! Nothing you say is going to help as much as providing meals, picking up kids, or mowing their yard.

  5. People will need your support long after the funeral is over, so keep checking on them. Nothing is more powerful than the constant presence of a loving friend.

Sometimes silence is better than words

By Cheryl Gilbert LMFT