What To Say and Not to Say To Someone Who Is Grieving: Words Matter

November 9th 2021
Grief is as individual as your fingerprint, so no one person moves through grief the same way. It is one of the reasons why grief is so complex to navigate for those moving through grief, and those trying to support someone who is grieving.

There is no manual or checklist, so much is based on the person and in many cases the moment. There are no absolute steps that each person has to go through, it’s not like there are 5 steps to dealing with grief and you tick them off one by one as you achieve them.

Far from it.

Each person is completely different, and each situation is completely different, and so it is vital to listen carefully as each griever will give you information about how you can witness their grief.

Words matter and in grief this is critical. Talking about death or loss is difficult for most people and using the words that the griever uses can help them feel heard. So, if they say died, or death use those words, if they use passed away that is a phrase that resonates for them. Using words that do not resonate with the person can be like nails on a chalkboard for the person and often leaving them either agitated or withdrawing from the conversation.

Depending on how you know the griever will also depend on how you will interact with them. One phrase that can be very challenging for someone who is grieving is to be asked ‘How are you?’ Our society deems that the response should be good, fine, or ok and none of these answers are how a griever feels, so they feel like they have to lie day in and day out.

Rephrasing the question to ‘How is today?’ is a simple shift that can make a big difference. Grief leaves people living in the moment, sometimes breath by breath, and something as simple as rephrasing the question can allow the person to answer how they truly feel and in turn feeling like you are seeing them amidst their pain.

Many grievers state that they often feel alone while grieving because people don’t see the pain they are in. Often friends and loved ones have no idea what to say or fear saying the wrong thing, so sometimes they say nothing at all, which definitely makes the griever feel alone.  It is okay to say to someone I have no words, but see how much you are hurting right now, I want you to know I am here if you need someone to listen and be there. Listen. If the person needs to cry let them cry, if they need to share stories, listen to them with zero judgment.
Remember grief is an individual as a fingerprint so how they grieve may not be how you would or have grieved before, and that is perfectly normal. Words matter and when you take the time to listen carefully and rephrase things you are offering them the ability to be witnessed exactly where they are at. 

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