What NOT to Say: Talking to the Bereaved: Avoid Platitudes

People sometimes worry that they will say the wrong thing. Our goal is to help people express their feelings, not “fix” them. The following are some statements to avoid:

I know how you feel. One can never know how another may feel. Instead, you could give your friend the opportunity to tell how he/she feels.

It’s part of God’s plan. This phrase can make people angry and they often respond with, “What plan? Nobody told me about any plan.

Look at what you have to be thankful for. ”They know they have things to be thankful for, but right now they are not important.

Call if you need anything. They aren’t going to call. It is much better to offer something concrete, such as: I have two free hours and I want to come over and vacuum your house or work on your lawn.

He’s in a better place now. The bereaved may or may not believe this. Keep your beliefs to yourself unless asked.

This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.
Sometimes the bereaved are resistant to getting on with because they feel this means “forgetting” their loved one. In addition, moving on is easier said than done. Grief has a mind of its own and works at its own pace.

Statements that begin with You should” or “You will. These statements are too directive. Instead you could begin your comments with: “Have you thought about. . .” or “You might. . .”

Making decisions for your friend. You can help your friend make decisions by exploring the pros and cons of what or what not to do. If you make a decision and it ends up being a bad one, your friend may be very angry with you. Moreover, you may be reinforcing dependence on you.

Discouraging expressions of grief. It is best to “encourage” your friend to express grief. If your friend begins to cry, do not change the subject, rather give a hug, make a pot of coffee or find the tissue.

Promoting your own values and beliefs. Listen to your friend talk about his or her values and beliefs. It’s okay to share yours as long as you are not trying to convince your friend that your way is better.

Encouraging dependence. The bereaved may tend to lean on you too much. It is better to gently encourage independence with your support and guidance.

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