How not to talk to someone who’s grieving

Person trying to talk to a grieving friend
Photo: Orchid Chakma

Finding the right things to say to a grieving friend or loved one can be tricky at times. Sometimes people might find it hard to properly console the other person, and may end up saying things which are counterintuitive. We all want to help the people we care about, but it is important to know how to properly be there for them.

Here is a list of things I believe people should avoid, when speaking to a grieving person.

Reminding them of the good things they have

People often unknowingly equate gratefulness to happiness. Even a grieving person can be grateful, but that does not mean they will also be happy. It is difficult for such an individual to simply "look on the bright side", as in their state of grief the good things pale in comparison to the bad. They need to be allowed to process their emotions first if they are to appreciate the good things they do have.

Comparing grief

Telling the person how other people suffer more or have "bigger problems" will not make them feel better and only serves to invalidate their feelings. Likewise, bringing up one's own issues without properly acknowledging the grieving person's problems falls in the same boat. Different people handle grief differently, the person needs to know that their problems are not lesser than others and they need to be acknowledged.

Reminding them of their responsibilities

Sometimes people may suggest a grieving person to simply "harden up" and focus on their work instead of thinking about what is making them sad. Reminding someone of all the work they need to get done will make the person feel even more burdened or pressurised. Furthermore, trying to work while ignoring the problem may worsen things even further.

Telling them it is part of "God's plan"

Faith is an important aspect of most people's lives, and this suggestion can have varying effects based on the grieving person's beliefs. It could make them optimistic that God has good things in store for them in the future, or it might make them feel as if it is their fate to suffer and that they have no control over it. Even worse, it could lead them to feel like they are doing something wrong and are being punished for it.

Often, any of the aforementioned points may lead to a person feeling responsible for the horrible things that may have happened to them. Thus, the easiest suggestion when it comes to helping a grieving person is that you should just treat them the way you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Tell them what they would like to hear, instead of telling them what you think is right. Sometimes grieving people need a safe space where they can express themselves and feel reassured. Even if you cannot find the right words, simply being present for them and listening to them helps every time.

Sabil spends most of his time trying to stay as hopeful as possible. You can contact him at [email protected]


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