Healing Tip – May 2024

Apr 30, 2024 | Healing Tip

When Words Make Grieving Even Worse

By Janet Zimmerman, LCSW-R 

When you have lost a child you very quickly realize that no one can possibly understand what you are experiencing unless they have undergone the same loss. It’s just impossible. As you learn fairly quickly, some people disappear, some want you to “get back to normal,” and some, if you are lucky, stand by you no matter what. They may or may not know what words to use to comfort you, but they understand that just showing up is what counts the most. 

Recently my group members have shared with me some of the most unhelpful, upsetting and inappropriate comments that well-meaning but clueless people have said to them. The group thought it would be helpful to have a list of “what-not-to-say” remarks to those who have lost a child. This list could be given to clergy to help educate from their pulpits, to friends and relatives who either “don’t know what to say,” or say the wrong things, and to anyone who would like to be helpful and not hurtful.

Here are some unsuitable phrases that made the list:

Have you recovered?

Nice to see you so happy again.

I wouldn’t be able to do what you do.

You should try to move on.

Things happen for a reason.

He’s in a better place.

We are all going to die.

God has a plan.

Don’t cry so much, you’ll hurt your eyes.

It is what it is.

Now you can spend more time with your grandson.

Some people die when they’re old, some people die when they’re middle-aged, some people die young, and some babies die.

Of course there are many more phrases people use that are upsetting. This list is unfortunately one that only grows over time. I know that those who are grieving develop skills to deal with this inanity. And it’s not fair that on top of carrying the heaviness of grief that people need to deal with this nonsense. But I hope that sharing this list can be helpful in educating people to be kind and supportive rather than upsetting.

Thank you to my group members who were willing to share their painful experiences. By helping each other deal with grief you are helping people survive and gain strength from each other.