I think the most glorious thing thus far in my life has been the birth of my grandchildren. It seems that each birth brings even greater wonder and joy as tiny new lives join our family. I have analyzed over and over in my mind why this is so, and I have decided that it is the miracle of increased love. Thankfully, neither my daughters nor I have suffered the tragedy of miscarriage. I cannot imagine what sadness would envelop our hearts with such a profound loss.
One of my daughters telephoned me the other day and asked how she might help a friend of hers. Not long ago, my daughter’s friend miscarried her baby. Naturally, her friend is experiencing associated grief and motherly anguish. As the daughter of a Funeral Director and Grief Counselor, my daughter understands quite well the trials her friend will experience. What she did not understand was how to protect her friend from well-intentioned ignorant people.
Because social illiteracy is rampant in death’s theatre, well-intentioned individuals often offer poor advice or utter words that increase suffering rather than comfort the bereaved. Obviously, no one wants to increase a survivor’s anguish, therefore, it benefits everyone to demystify proper sympathy expressions. Unfortunately, one does not generally realize they are committing a faux pas until it is too late. It is for these reasons that I offer this list of “Not the Best Things to Say to Survivors vs. Better Expressions of Sympathy.” I am also adding a short list of Kind and Thoughtful Gestures, for good measure. It is my hope that condolers, especially those surrounding my daughter’s recently bereaved friend, will be able to apply these lists to be able to more comfortably, and better express, their sympathies in the future.
Not the best thing to say to survivors:
Get over it.
It’s time to move on.
It’s been long enough.
He/she wouldn’t want you to cry.
Why are you still crying over this?
You need to get rid of his or her things.
You need to put this behind you.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
You must be strong.
You are still young, you can always remarry.
Heaven needed another angel.
God needed (or wanted) him/her more than you did.
God never gives you more than you can handle.
Everything happens for a reason.
It’s in God’s hands.
I thought you’d be more upset.
At least you never knew the baby.
Time heals all wounds, or, it gets better over time.
He/She is in a better place.
At least he/she isn’t suffering any longer.
You still have the other twin.
It will be okay.
I know how you feel.
You do have other children.
This too shall pass.
The above statements are not helpful as they are judgmental and belittle the gravity of the survivor’s pain. They also demonstrate a complete lack of understanding and/or caring.
Better expressions of sympathy
I don’t know how you feel, but I love and care for you, and I am here to help you in any way that I can.
I am sorry for your loss. (Rather impersonal, but when you are near tears yourself, sometimes, it’s all you can utter.)
I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry (insert the decedent’s name) is gone. He/She was a good neighbor, great friend, valued employee, trusted co-worker (insert the appropriate title or description). I will miss him/her.
I wish I had the right words. Just know that I care.
I’m sorry you have to go through this. or I’m sorry this has happened.
You are in my thoughts and prayers.
These responses are better because they do not tell the mourner how to feel or act. They simply recognize their loss and state that you care.
Kind and thoughtful gestures
Would it be okay for me to bring dinner over next Friday?
You know, we box at the same post office. Would it be okay if I brought your mail to you for the next two weeks?
I am looking for a project to teach my grandson the value of service.
Would you mind terribly if he and I mow and weed your lawn for the next 2 months?
Or in colder climates…
Would you mind terribly if he and I shovel your snow this winter?
I’m taking my car in for an oil change next Wednesday, I’m wondering if I might take yours as well?
Would it be okay for me to call you occasionally, just to chat, or maybe we could go out for coffee?
I heard you are going to take two weeks and visit your daughter in Kentucky. I’d be happy to watch your home while you’re gone.
These gestures are wonderful because they offer assistance to the bereaved when they are in a state of confusion and in great need of assistance. They also do not judge or insinuate incompetence.
To condole is to express your genuine feelings of sorrow to the bereaved. Your goal is to comfort and give useful assistance to them; not advice. Educating yourself on the differences will assist you in retaining your dignity, as well as your welcome within your social circle. Survivors should never suffer additional pain from a comment offered out of love, concern, and sympathy. Sympathy expressions dance across a delicate floor of painful emotions and insecurity for both the sender and receiver. I hope these lists offer you the clarity you seek so that the next time you express sympathy, you may do so with confidence that your message has been received as it was meant.
Tracy Renee Lee,Managing Funeral Director of Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City, Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and Certified Grief Counselor. I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery.
It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.
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