Real Talk: How to Help Someone Going through Grief (And what NOT to Say)

I feel like grief can be a very touchy subject. Not everyone likes to talk about it. Not everyone knows how to react to someone going through grief, especially if they have never gone through it themselves. But it shouldn’t be taboo.

In the end, we will all go through grief at one point or another—it’s part of life. No one should ever have to feel ashamed because they are grieving. I remember in the initial stages when I lost my spouse some people pulled away because they didn’t know what to say. Many times, people truly want to help, but they just don’t know how or maybe they are afraid of saying the wrong things.

Here are some ways you can help someone who is grieving the death of a loved one (including what not to say).

1. Don’t ask what they need, just do it. I had some people tell me “if you need anything, just let me know.” But after going through a loss it can put pressure on the person grieving to reach out for help (or come up with ideas). That’s why it’s important to just do it. I remember my friend Flor de Maria sent me and my family food after my husband passed away. Thoughtful things like this mean so much. It could also be simple things like helping them take out the trash, babysitting, doing laundry.

2. Don’t pull away. Everyone grieves differently, but pulling away from someone who is grieving can be very hurtful. If you feel uncomfortable, it can be something as simple as sending them a text message to check-in on them. Something simple like “Just wanted to pass by to let you know I’m thinking about you and sending you a big hug.”

3. Don’t rush their grief.  Don’t assume that just because it’s been one month or two or a year that they should be “over it” already. Truth is, you never really get over someone you loss. You learn to live with it and there comes a point where the grief comes in waves. Be considerate that each person has his or her own timeline. Sometimes the best thing you can offer someone is to just listen. Let them grieve without judgments.

What Not to Say: 

Don’t say: “How are you doing?

Sheryl Sandberg talked about this in her book Option B. Hearing that question when I lost my husband was very difficult for me too. It made me want to say….Um, well, my husband just died, I’m doing as good as I can be, I guess.”

Instead, you can acknowledge that what they are going through right now is very painful.

Don’t say: “I know how you feel.”

Unless you have experienced the same type of loss, saying something like this can be hurtful. For example, saying something like “I know how you feel, my dog just died.” Claiming that you know how they feel, can feel invalidating for the person.

Instead, you can say something like “I can’t even imagine what you are going through.”

Don’t say:

 “They are in a better place.” 

 “Everything happens for a reason.” 

 “They are your angel now” 

“God needed him or her.” 

These phrases still don’t take away the fact that their loved one is not with them anymore. It can be very hurtful and can seem to de-emphasize the pain they are feeling.

Instead, focus on them and acknowledging their feelings.

Don’t say: “At least you’re young, you’ll remarry one day” or if they lost a child, “You can always have another one.” 

Phrases like these, might suggest that the person they loss is replaceable. Getting remarried or having another child, will never take away the pain. Also, that might be the last thing they want to think about.

Instead, don’t be afraid to say their name {the person that passed away}. Perhaps you can even share what they meant to you or a special memory you had with them.

Overall, just being genuinely concerned is what matters most. The person going through grief will forever be grateful for your efforts.

Photo by: Alpha Smoot


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