What to Say When Someone Dies?
It is very hard to find the right words to say to someone who has lost a loved one. Most of us badly want to console that person but what we say often just magnifies the suffering.
One thing that you definitely don’t want to do is say that you know how the person is feeling. Even if you have suffered a similar or identical loss in the past, this moment of consolation belongs to the person who is currently grieving. The fact that you may actually know what they’re going through might help you to be less agonized over their suffering but it won’t be of much use to them.
Of course, we should never mention that their loved one’s death was a good thing. People often say that a deceased person who experienced pain at the end is “better off now”. The person who is suffering the loss might understand what you’re saying but it won’t help them with their feelings of loss.
Another common but inappropriate thing is telling the person that they have to go on living or that death is just a part of life. Most people need to grieve for a while before they can let go of their loved one. Saying that life goes on insinuates that they shouldn’t grieve at all.
Another thing we certainly don’t want to do is exasperate the person’s grief. Saying things like, “What a horrible thing to happen” or “You must be absolutely devastated” or “What a horrible way to die” are likely to just make matter worse.
Also be careful about offering to help the person or about being someone they can talk to about their grief. If you’re not really sincere about possibly listening to hours of grieving, don’t offer! If your life is already full to the brim, you may want to reconsider offering assistance. By all means, doing those things when someone dies can be a wonderful gesture that can enhance your future relationship with the grieving party but it can do exactly the opposite if you don’t follow through. Another thing to consider is whether you are really close enough to the person to offer to listen to their grief. You could be seen as “butting in” to an agonizing situation.
So if you decide not to offer help or an open ear, what can you say that is totally acceptable? The most common one is probably, “I’m sorry for your loss”. It’s a relatively neutral statement that lets the person know you care about what they are going through but doesn’t magnify the inevitable negative emotions.
One last thing to look out for is lying about the deceased in order to offer comfort to their loved ones. A child can suffer great emotional strife over losing a parent even if that person was not a wonderful person. Saying something like, “Your father was the kindest person I’ve ever known” when everyone knows that’s not true will just put your sincerity about the child’s suffering in question.
Also remember that different people react in different ways when someone they love dies. Don’t criticize people because if they don’t cry as much as you would or even don’t cry at all. You have no way of knowing what they are feeling inside. On the other hand, some people may grieve much longer and/or more severely than you do. That’s ok too! Be understanding!
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