19 Worst Things to Say to a Grieving Person

19 Worst Things to Say to a Grieving Person

Going through grief, which is being experienced by so many people these days, can leave a lasting imprint on the brain and can cause myriad symptoms. It can make people feel sad, depressed, unable to concentrate, edgy, anxious, or irritable, and can cause trouble sleeping. If you know someone who’s mourning the loss of a loved one, you may wonder what you should say, or what you shouldn’t say.

The neuropsychiatrists at Amen Clinics, the global leader in brain health, have helped thousands of patients who are mourning the loss of a loved one. And those patients have shared some very hurtful comments they heard that just made them feel worse.

For example, one woman who was just 28 when her 30-year-old husband died in a car accident, said, “I can’t believe how many people told me, ‘At least you’re young. You’ll find a new husband.’” Another patient whose son died by suicide, cried when she remembered someone telling her, “It’s a blessing that you have other children.’”

Granted, it can be difficult to know what to say or what not to say in life’s most difficult moments.

To help you understand what typically comes off as hurtful rather than helpful, here are 19 things Amen Clinics patients said they wish people would stop saying to someone who’s grieving.

  1. “How are you doing?”
  2. “You’ll be okay after a while.”
  3. “I understand how you feel.”
  4. “You shouldn’t feel that way.”
  5. “Stop crying.”
  6. “At least he’s in a better place; his suffering is over.”
  7. “At least she lived a long life, many people die young.”
  8. “She brought this on herself.”
  9. “Aren’t you over him yet, he’s been dead for a while now.”
  10. “There is a reason for everything.”
  11. “God’s in charge.”
  12. “She was such a good person; God wanted her to be with Him.”
  13. “Just give it time. Time heals.” (Time does not heal, taking the right steps heals.)
  14. “You’re young; you can still have other children.”
  15. “You’ll do better next time in love.”
  16. “It was just a dog or cat. You can get another one.”
  17. “Stay busy. Don’t think about it.”
  18. “You have to be strong for your spouse, children, mother, etc.” (This diminishes their need to take time to heal.)
  19. “Just move on.”

12 Things to Say to (or Do for) a Grieving Person

Based on what thousands of Amen Clinics patients have said, here are better ways to communicate and connect with someone who’s in mourning.

  1. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  2. “I wish I had the right words. Please know I care and I’m here for you.”
  3. “You and your loved ones are in my prayers.”
  4. “I can’t imagine how you feel.” Then be quiet and let them tell you about their feelings.
  5. “I can’t imagine how you feel. When I lost my father I felt …..” Then listen without judgment or criticism.
  6. “I’m here for you.” Better yet, if there is something specific they need, ask if you can do it for them. Ask if you can make phone calls or send emails on their behalf.
  7. “Can I go to the funeral?” This is often an important sign of support.
  8. “Want to talk about what happened?” Many people avoid this question, but it helps the griever to explain it, if they desire, and having a compassionate ear can help them process it more accurately.
  9. Just be present.
  10. Share a memory about the person who’s gone.
  11. Be empathetic. It’s okay for you to show your feelings.
  12. Continue connecting, even after a few months. Many people are inundated in the first few weeks, but they need support long after the funeral is over.

Don’t Block Your Painful Feelings

If you’re the one who’s grieving, know that there are steps you can take to heal. Allowing yourself to express your painful feelings is one of them. Let your feelings wash over you, cry, scream (not at others!), then challenge the thoughts that underlie the feeling to see if they are true. When you avoid painful thoughts, feelings, and memories, it creates more harm than good in the long run. A wealth of research, including a study in Behaviour Research and Therapy, has shown that avoidance increases the likelihood of a host of psychological issues, such as depression, PTSD, anxiety disorders, binge eating, chronic pain, low academic performance, and more.

Whenever you are suffering from grief, write out your feelings or find a friend or therapist you can talk them out to. This can help bring perspective, which often gets lost during emotional crises. Blocking your feelings leads to engaging in negative behaviors to deal with the excess negative emotional energy.

PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

26 Comments »

  1. Having lost both a son and a wife, I can support this list. Personally, the one I disliked the most is, “I know how you feel”. Unless you have lost your family like I have, NO YOU DON’T!

    Comment by Robert Baker — September 14, 2020 @ 3:26 AM

  2. Thank you, the information is very informative

    Comment by Yvonne Fregon — September 14, 2020 @ 4:03 AM

  3. I have a friend who’s father die , she has a lot guilt. She feels that she. Let him die with not help. She want to visit him 3 week before he died. But for personal situations she did not do it .He was living with a relative. That acuse her later to let him die With no care. How can I help her. With this guilt and blame that she is struggling. ?

    Comment by Ulmira — September 14, 2020 @ 4:35 AM

  4. Yes I saw your website and told myself to write to you. My mother 91died unexpectedly last October. It is coming up and I find myself becoming more stressed and depressed. The depression has not left me since the day she died. I have a counselor but never end up talking about my mom. Everyone left me about two months after her death. Months have gone by since my children have spoken to me. My brother told me off as well as his wife and I have not seen them since the funeral. They accused me of having deep problems You see I was with my mom for the last twenty years . We lived together because of a promise Imade to my dad in19999 . So to end she was my world always there . We moved to Florida because she wanted to live where it was warm. We were there for fifteen years and I was depressed the whole time I was there . Illost friends because of this. My kids were up here. I was alone and my mother was there . Iam now68 and just living in low income housing . My mother spent so much moving along with me we tanked. We moved about six times trying to please her ,until I put my foot down and we came home,but it was too late . So my mom eent through colon cancer that I had to be with her for. When she started with dementia my brother only visited occasionally for twenty minutes.i became ill with cushings disease and then my kidneys failed to fourth stage renal failure . My kids do not care and will not even sign a health care proxy. I have a counselor but I do not think she likes me and criticizes me allot . She herself has asked if I thoght another counselor would help more. I said no because I have talked with her now and do not want to rehash everything . I tried to reach out to my ex husband of twenty years because I see both my children lost and hurting . They are unhappy and need to sit down with the both of us and we have some explaining to do. I miss my mom’s advice everyday. I always was close to her. So that is it Iam depressed and really wish my kidneys would just completely fail . It would be pretty quick death . Iam not having dialyalisis and sitting alone . The only one whocomes is my homemaker? I had a friend of sixty years who Zi used to call but we had a fight and she told me my mother told her that she hated me. I thought I would faint . That will live with me as long as my heart works . Whatdo I do I cannot ask her and I just want to see her soon to ask her ,it was a knife in my heart. Thank you for listening . My mom and I were both nurses from the same school Iwas proud of her and she of me. If you can help me deal with her loss and my sadness and depression I would really love that. I cannot get out to church ,so I watch zrev Schiller and David Jeremiah and sometimes Joel Olsteen . So I do not have a minister to talk to
    Sincerely Joann Caforio

    Comment by Joann Caforio — September 14, 2020 @ 5:10 AM

  5. I do not like when someone says “when my xxxxx died……” as if to compare their experience. The loss is about the person that you lost and who that person was. When my father died, I was grateful when people talked about him, or gave me an opportunity to talk about him. I recall one person talking incessantly about when HER father died, and it irritated me to no end. This was about MY father.

    Comment by Nancy L Berger — September 14, 2020 @ 6:18 AM

  6. Thank you for your comments regarding what to possibly say when someone is grieving. It is very important to have something to give to a person who is grieving and I also believe that there is a great work to do in assisting people so that when life happens to or for someone else they can move beyond, the symptoms lying in wait, because the reality is that we cannot bring them back to life but we can appreciate the life that we shared with them, if our own house is in order. Are we spending quality time with those close to us when they are alive? have we forgiven ourselves and made amends “to ourselves” for being bratty children? or do we plan to “take inappropriate situations to the grave with us” and when someone else expires, we are either overcome with grief because of “what I wish I had done” and even worse, in the case of opiate and other addicts, overcome with grief because “they can hardly wait for the death certificate so the “life” insurance policy can be cashed. We have lots of people in our country that have all kinds of talents and can really be designing seminars to disseminate information about life in reality. If I am going to learn to ride a bicycle, I have to practice and practice and practice. If I am going to stay in reality and utilize my knowledge appropriately, I have to practice logical thinking, i.e. what is really going to transpire after the funeral service gives one the cremation urn? When a person smokes a cigarette they know that nothing is left when it is over and even though they can reach for another cigarette, there is nothing left of the one that was smoked to the filter. We have a need to be consistent is calling those around us into reality. A few years ago I designed a seminar called “Just The Basics Seminars” and with the assistance of the state of Virginia, took the workshop to various mental health venues and my surveys (that were stolen with all of my household goods in a relocation move in April 2020) revealed that most people are willing to look at things differently but it takes time, and practice to get into a mode of consistent logical thinking; similar to the coronavirus masks that we are constantly being reminded to dawn when out in public. It will take someone reminding a person that ‘it is ok for that aspect of life to happen for another’ and it is even better that one utilizes the blessing of life at hand to take the positives from the relationship and accomplish even greater works in their lives, as an honor to the one who has passed on. Thank for letting me share, Ruth Molyne

    Comment by Ruth Molyne — September 14, 2020 @ 6:28 AM

  7. I lost my 12 year old son Max in a car accident on August 27, 2018. Dr. Amen’s brain scan was extremely helpful for the one child that survived the accident (two of my son’s friends died as well).
    This article does not reflect my experience of grief and the brain stages that accompany it, namely (1) shock, (2) overwhelm (when you have to establish clear brain support systems to handle the intensity of emotional processing and finally (3) acceptance. I found that just showing up and sending a nice card, dropping off flowers or a baked good and check in texts were the most helpful.

    Comment by jodi — September 14, 2020 @ 6:44 AM

  8. It was great to read what was appropriate & what was not. It will help in the future

    Comment by Nora Komenda — September 14, 2020 @ 7:18 AM

  9. I’m so sorry for your loss needs to go in the list of things not to say. It is meaningless. If I say I’m sorry it implies I had something to do with it. The person may not have experienced it as a loss so you are assuming something that may not be true. Please Do not say this!

    Comment by Kathryn Jans — September 14, 2020 @ 7:51 AM

  10. This was the most helpful article yet from Amen

    Comment by Luke — September 14, 2020 @ 7:58 AM

  11. I lost my 15 year old daughter unexpectedly to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot that burst in her lung). It was devastating and still is some days. I share with others who lose a loved one the one thing that gets me through, and that is enjoying memories through photos and videos of my beautiful girl. I even share with others that I wish I had more photos and encourage to take as many as possible, especially videos where you can hear the person’s voice. It is so comforting to hear as well as see her.

    Comment by Linda — September 14, 2020 @ 8:39 AM

  12. And may I please add #20 to the list of things NOT to say to a grieving person: “It was God’s will,” and, as a “bonus:” “You didn’t have enough faith (or the correct “measure” of faith) for their healing” (which implies that if they had believed “hard enough,” that person would have survived- in other words, it’s THEIR FAULT that the loved on passed away. Yes, horribly, I have heard stories of people, CHRISTIAN people, saying such things.

    Comment by Jennifer — September 14, 2020 @ 8:45 AM

  13. I wonder if sharing what has been helpful for oneself or others is supportive. I think important to acknowledge that grieving is best done collectively and not in isolation. There are so many contextual variables and much is cultural and I think individuals vary greatly in how they grieve. I also think there were reasons that there were paid “wailers” in times past.

    Comment by James K Rotchford — September 14, 2020 @ 8:58 AM

  14. Having lost my husband to dementia Jan. 28, 2017, I still feel the loss, loneliness, and emptiness having been married for 32 years. The comments made by people who do not “know how I feel” were spot-on because I am a nurse and was the sole caregiver who watched him die in our bed after seven days (with a DNR). I still have thoughts of those last days and my memory will not ever be erased. Having been educated in grief counseling I just say, “I am sorry for your loss.” Thank you Dr. Amen for publishing this list as I will share it with others who are uneducated and say hurtful words. Ms. Whitfield

    Comment by Mrs. Ferris S.Whitfield — September 14, 2020 @ 9:06 AM

  15. Thank you for these two very important lists…. I am a Big Fan of the Amen Clinics, which I regularly recommend to neighbors as well as my students’ parents. But I think that in general you would serve the cause of Brain Health more include more HOW TOs in your books and articles. Indeed, for example, I’d love lists like this when dealing with students who have each type of ADD or appear mood disordered. More Amen Clinic item I use in all my classes is the A.N.T.s model for my Social-Emotional classes.

    Comment by Valerie M. Curry — September 14, 2020 @ 9:54 AM

  16. We lost our young adult son in a motorcycle accident two years ago. We are so grateful for the support our entire community gave us.

    I don’t mind being asked “How are you?” It means you care. Being active in my faith, I don’t mind people saying that God took him home. It’s comforting. I can, however, understand that other people would not like that comment.

    It does not get easier. I find that I want to share parental advice with him, and yet I realize that he has experienced more than I have. I have a video of him on my phone, and when I look at it, that helps.

    Finally, I wish insurance covered your scans. I wanted to get him checked for ADD, and who knows, maybe he would be less accident prone and alive today if we got him treated.

    Comment by SB — September 14, 2020 @ 10:32 AM

  17. My husband of 55 years crossed over in 2014 and as I was starting to do better being alone and reaching out to others when my second son suddenly died Jan. 25, 2019 from poor medical treatment and then my oldest lost a six year battle with colon cancer on May 15, 2019. Both boys lived close and I relied on them to help me when I needed it both for comfort and for any handyman chores I needed. They helped me thru the worst time in my life and then they too were gone. All of us being Christ followers is the only thing I can hang onto when the tears flow. I seem to do ok some days and others are filled with tears and an ache in my heart that I have no words for. After hearing How are you and I know how you feel over and over again and just wanting to scream How do you think I feel, I have never said those words again to friends and family that have also suffered loss. Your guide is helpful when we are at at loss on what to say to a grieving person. Thank you.

    Comment by barbara bryant — September 14, 2020 @ 11:36 AM

  18. When my mother got sick, I was telling some co-workers, (PhD psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses and Social Workers) that I would be leaving the state for a while to visit my mother. One of the social workers said, “You people just kill me who get all bent out of shape when your old parents get sick. How would you like to have been me who was raised by a stepmother?” Then, at the funeral, a co-worker of my sister came down the line of we mourners and said, in a monotone, “sorry for your loss, sorry for your loss…” I felt like telling her not to bother. And, I won’t even get started on what some of the well meaning church people say. Years ago, a kindergarten child who was in my Sunday school class, got run over by the school bus at her stop. When my neighbor and I went to the funeral, my neighbor started going on and on about how she knew exactly how the mom felt because she also lost a child. The child she was referring to was a late term miscarriage and I know what that is like myself but, I don’t think it was helpful to the grieving mom. Anyway, thank you for the list. It was helpful.

    Comment by Cari — September 14, 2020 @ 12:06 PM

  19. Thank you so much for all these reminders. Very helpful. My husband’s brother just died and I need to be sensitive to his wife and her feelings.

    Comment by Sue A Woodruff — September 14, 2020 @ 12:42 PM

  20. When my father died, what was most comforting to me was when people talked about how much they liked him and things they appreciated about him. So, if I knew the deceased, I try to do the same. If I did not know the deceased personally, I try to find ways to be helpful (e.g., I send food; once I brought my friend a black dress coat when I came to her mother’s wake so she could wear it to the funeral, because I knew she didn’t have one). When all else fails I just hug the person and tell them how sorry I am for their loss.

    Comment by Katherine — September 14, 2020 @ 3:39 PM

  21. Several of these statements on what NOT to say were said to my mother and I after my father passed in 2010. It still hurts me to this day. Even though the two of us have healed in some way, we aren’t FULLY healed, meaning we’ll never truly get over it. So for the ones who say “Get over it…” SHUT. UP! No grieving person wants to hear that!! If people were more sympathetic and empathetic, the world would probably be a better place, especially for those who grieve. Just being there is a good start.

    Comment by Brittnae' Patterson — September 14, 2020 @ 5:54 PM

  22. I really appreciate seeing the things that could or would be helpful to say to someone grieving. I had all of the do not things to say said to me when my husband passed unexpectedly. There are no words for how some of those things hurt especially when everything was really raw. Since I have had two very good friends lose their husbands to unexpected deaths. I learned so much through my experience that I was bound and determined to not repeat the gaffs that I received. Both of these friends and I have become very close and we have discussed many of the “not to say” things. I will make a list of the “to say things” to share with them so we can all three be more appropriate in the future.

    Comment by Pat Wagner — September 14, 2020 @ 9:06 PM

  23. This was a very helpful article. The only one that I kind of thought twice about was the first item under Things Not To Say – How are you doing. From personal losses, I never minded someone asking me that but usually it was done by people close to me. I have also had others respond – thank you, no one stopped to ask how I was doing – so I would imagine it depends on who the person is. I could see how just a general – How are you doing – could seem insincere if it was someone that was not close to the grieving individual. Some great suggestions in the alternate column – Things to Say.

    Comment by Susan Loughnane — September 15, 2020 @ 1:05 PM

  24. Thank you for the article. Our 19 year-old hung himself. No drugs or alcohol were found in his system. He was a handsome and intelligent young man. He did not leave a note and we don’t know why. I do know we had many awful things, like your list, said to us. Suicide is the #1 cause of death in AZ for ages 15-22.
    We chose to give more grace To those who say the stupidest things to us.
    I am thankful my foundation is built on the Rock of Yeshua. I chose to trust Him to see my son again and chose to Trust in the Lord and do Good. Maybe it is good I do not know Why he died.
    Thanks for the article. I know your clinical treatments work!
    Lori Boyd, Scottsdale, AZ

    Comment by Lori Hayden-Boyd — September 15, 2020 @ 5:16 PM

  25. Helpful list, thank you. Reading so many comments, sad stories of others, it was so sad. I just want to say that I had a chance to attend a GriefShare, which was super helpful for me in dealing with my sister’s death, and also my mother’s and father’s from before (I didn’t even know I hadn’t dealt with certain things). I remember some unhelpful things people said, but like someone said earlier, just give them grace, they don’t really know what to say. I remember one of the most helpful things someone did, was to drop off a card and some flowers and say kind things about their memories with my mom. May God comfort those who need comforting, and help those that need some extra help come in contact with the right people.

    Comment by Lidia — September 16, 2020 @ 2:29 PM

  26. Instead of asking “How are you doing?” which can come off as a bit uncaring (nobody grieving ever responded “Fantastic!”), try saying “How are you doing today?” Adding “Today” acknowledges that the person has suffered a loss that rocked their world and imparts a greater sense of caring to the griever.

    Comment by Mary Richards — September 23, 2020 @ 5:07 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Have a Question?