What to Say and What to Avoid Saying

What to Say and What to Avoid Saying to Someone Who is Grieving:
• Avoid: “I hope you are feeling better.”
• Instead consider: “How are you feeling?”

“I hope you are feeling better” sounds like a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but grief is not like having a cold or the flu. While time often does curtail the pain, the grieving process can take an infinite amount of time. Therefore, “I hope you are feeling better” could be interpreted as invalidating. In contrast, “How are you feeling?” presents an open-ended question that empowers the person to respond on his or her own accord.

• Avoid: “I know how you are feeling.” 
• Instead consider: “I am sorry for your loss and what you are going through.” 

Perhaps the person you are talking to has just lost a parent and you also have lost a parent. You may have an instinctive reaction to say, “I know exactly how you’re feeling.” As each person grieves in a unique manner, such a statement could be experienced as dismissive or insensitive. Acknowledging the loss and communicating your concern can be reassuring and comforting.

• Avoid: “You will feel better soon.”
• Instead consider: “I am here for you.” 

“You will feel better soon” comes from a good place, maybe even from a hopeful place. While you may be inclined to say something uplifting [to the person who is grieving] such messages have the potential to be misunderstood. Alternatively, “I am here for you” communicates your availability and willingness without strings. You may also consider asking what someone needs and how you can provide support in the moment. For example, asking, “Would it be helpful if I took your child to the park this afternoon or can I bring you groceries?” These are actions that convey concern and thoughtfulness.

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