Things Not to Say to My Friend Sam

cemetaryIt’s ok if people think we’re crazy.

Grief is a solitary journey.

And it changes us and confuses many people around us (mostly because grief is very misunderstood in our society).

And time?

Will passing time every really heal the gaping hole in our hearts?

My friend, Sam, said good-bye to his sister this weekend. She died after a battle with cancer. Her newborn grandchild died just a few short months ago and another grandchild is critically ill after complications from a bone marrow transplant. Sam’s father died nearly a year ago. And while I don’t quite know what to say to him, I absolutely know what NOT to say to my friend, Sam, who has suffered tremendous loss in his family over the past year.

I know because I have learned much from the things people have said to us during our grief journey.

People can and will cause more pain with the things they say after a loss.

When someone you care about is grieving, please don’t minimize that grief by just spouting out words.

Sit quietly with your grieving friend.

Appreciate the silence.

Because silent love is sometimes the very best love.

And words have tremendous power.

And once spoken, they will linger.

Sometimes forever…

If you must speak, I urge you to carefully contemplate your words and pray for guidance.

And never – NEVER – say these things.
(Because people said them to us and it gave us no comfort and sometimes caused more pain.)

1. They are in a better place.
Depending on your beliefs, this may very well be true, but that statement will NOT make them feel better. Grief is about the ones who are left behind mourning the loss of that loved one.

2. They aren’t suffering anymore.
This offers little condolence. Whatever the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person is still suffering

3. It was their time to go
Obviously, it was their time or they would still be here. And just because it is their time does not mean it doesn’t hurt terribly.

4. Everything happens for a reason.
Do not use this cliché!! Really? This is like reading someone’s t-shirt for goodness sake! Speak from your heart and if you don’t know what to say – say I don’t know what to say.

5. God never gives you more than you can handle.
Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle and they only get through it with God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

6. Sometimes God has to get your attention.
We actually had a pastor (not ours) say this to us – as if Zack’s death was caused by something we had done. Grief is sometimes accompanied with much guilt. Don’t cause more guilt by spouting out words to try to explain why something happened.

7. Time will ease your pain.
Time will pass – we all know that. But saying this overused statement or something like “this too shall come to pass”does not bring comfort to the present moment of deep hurt. Just be real. Be you. Don’t grasp some statement out of the air. (But just so you know – the pain is always there because the missing is always there. It just becomes more like a dull ache rather than a fresh, raw cut.)

8. Let me know if you need anything.
Don’t ask! If you REALLY want to help, just show up and do something. Grievers are most likely NOT going to call and ask for help. Encourage your friend to have a list of chores, errands that need to be done so when people ask, they have something concrete to give them. People want to help but often feel helpless and helping your friend compose a list will give others something helpful to do that will make a difference. And DO NOT leave a voice mail or a text saying I’m here if you need me. If you are HERE then be HERE – show up at the front door! Don’t throw messages out and fail to follow through. BE THERE.

9. I know how you feel.
Even if you have experienced a similar loss, you have NO IDEA how someone else feels. And never forget – this moment is not about you and any loss you have suffered – it is about your friend and the deep pain they are feeling at this moment. When we bring the focus to ourselves, we are leaving our friend in a very real way. AND absolutely do not compare their loss to your recent loss of a pet. Pets – I get it – are very much a part of the family, but equating the loss of your pet to the death of a child, mother, father, sister etc. cuts to the core.

10. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.
Unless you are God, DO NOT use this line.

Grief lasts and has many side effects.

Be a friend.

Be kind.

And be a blessing to all who are grieving this day.

Do you have something to add to my list? Please leave a comment to share so we will all know what NOT to say to those who grieve…

We send our love to the family of Cynthia Hammons. Our hearts hurt with you and we will continue our prayers for all of you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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21 thoughts on “Things Not to Say to My Friend Sam

  1. thank you wendy for such great insight. while I have no idea how you feel or what to say I did identify with a lot of things you said. much of it applies to a mom who’s baby was born with a rare, life threatening condition. I have heard each of these through the years and agree… we won’t ask for help and when someone offers it just makes me uncomfortable. the one time I responded with, “well I could really use someone to sit with her while I ran some errands” they said, “oh i’d be afraid to do that.” yeah…. you think i’m ever going to ask anything of anyone ever again???

    thank you for always sharing your heart. you touch mine every time.

  2. Wendy, I lost my Daddy when I was only 12 years old. I vividly remember standing in the visitation line as all those people filed thru saying so many of the things you mentioned above. Even as a young girl, some of the remarks caused a rage of anger to raise up inside of me. So many people said “I know what you are going thru” or “I know exactly how you feel”. I just wanted to sream at the top of my lungs right there in the funeral home, “NO YOU DON’T!!” Thank you so much for sharing this~

  3. All I can say is thank you for sharing this. I am sure I have said any number of the things on your list. If I said any of these to anyone reading this please know I am truly sorry. Again thank you Wendy for your help. Mary

  4. Thank you for sharing. Especially #8 about being there. i would have hesitated to “just show up”, and yet if someone did that for me it would speak volumes of their care and love.

  5. When my SIL lost her baby people would say “”Your young you can always have another” That always ripped her heart out because yes she can have another and did but it didn’t replace the one she lost. Also when my mom had cancer and died I had a few people tell me “Well at least you were prepared that this would happen” Nobody is ever prepared to lose somebody they love. Thanks Wendy. Number 8 stuck out to me because I would not think to just show up either.

  6. Beautifully written – and very timely! I promise to pray for your friend, Sam, and for you as you minister to his loss through the experience of your own. I feel like I’ve said this a million times in the last week — but God doesn’t waste ANYTHING!

  7. Yup, this is why I stay away from a lot of people in my life – including some of my family. Also, some people will give you a month or two to “get over your loss” and then expect you to continue as if nothing happened. Sometimes the worst of it hits you several months down the road.

    • You’re right Debra. I even had a family member tell me to get over it there’s nothing I can do about anything !That made me so mad!

  8. The “I know what you are going through” comment didn’t upset me as much coming from someone who had actually lost a child. One person recently told me “We had this happen to someone in our family so I know how you feel.” Really? Really. Until you bury YOUR child, you have no CLUE, nor do you have the credence — or broken heat — to say such a thing. And then she kept arguing with me!! Even though it has been almost seven years — this coming Thursday — since Will went home, emotions still run high on this particular topic. Timely post, sweet Wendy!

  9. When I lost my 11-year old daughter last year in an auto accident I bore witness to the ridiculousness that comes from people’s mouths who just want to be of some help or relief. Silence is truly golden!! Also, I’d like to add to all those people who want to share meals – THANK YOU! But please, PLEASE share in containers you don’t care if they ever are returned to you. I barely could recall who showed up at our door, much less what pan they were carrying!

  10. Thank YOU, Wendy! I’m following so much of your journey and Zack’s and I must say this post says it all. Everything. I know most people do mean well and have no wish to cause more pain, but sometimes it does. There is another I’ve heard before, to me – suck it up, deal with it, get over it. That doesn’t help anything and makes me wonder if that person has any feelings at all. Again, thank you for your words. I agree.

    Sherri Paul

  11. Reblogged this on The Laughing Nanny and commented:
    I followed the journey of this family while living the fullest life possible under their circumstances. Well-meaning friends have no wish to be cruel but sometimes it happens. Wendy shared some great words on things not to say to someone who is experiencing grief. It’s something we all will feel some day and no two people will cope the same way. Thank you, Wendy.

  12. Thanks Wendy for this website and all the comments that people have written. My 28 yr. old son passed away unexpectedly in January 2013. He has a 2 1/2 yr.old son and a stepdaughter. It has been very hard at times. The children have had it hard too. One person told me God must be punishing me what did I do he said.

  13. It’s very interesting to me how people tend to avoid others who are experiencing pain/grief because there really are no “right” words. I experienced a time of great grief-although very different from a loss of a child- when I lost my “family” through divorce. I really needed people to “just do” and it rarely happened. I think that is great advice in any situation of grief.

  14. Thank you for sharing. I know I am guilty of saying some of these things, not knowing what to say. You’re right. Silence is golden. I will now know what to not say next time. I will keep my mouth shut and sit with the person that’s grieving.