When someone passes away, we are all pretty much at a loss as to what to say to the grieving family members. It’s OK and it’s human, because unless you have had someone very dear to you die, you can’t imagine how it feels. (Well, you can “imagine” it, but it’s not anything close, believe me.)
When working with the elderly as a home care nurse, I often had clients that were newly widowed. I felt very sorry for them. I was compassionate. I told them how sorry I was, but when I left their home, I forgot about it and went on to the next patient in line. It’s impossible to feel and/or understand someone else’s pain.
As a youngish/middle-agish widow, I had several people say things to me that I absolutely know were meant to be helpful, but in essence, weren’t at all. From my own personal point of view, the number one thing NOT to say to a grieving person is “They are in a better place”.
I’m a Christian, and I believe in Heaven wholeheartedly, but my husband did not want to be there yet, nor did I want him to go. Heaven is lovely, I’m sure, but he wanted to keep working at his job, be with his children and grand children, mow the yard, watch football…..all the things a regular fella wants to do. Telling me that he was in a better place made me want to stomp my foot and say “No he’s NOT, he wanted to be HERE”.
Secondly, stating that the deceased person “lived a good life”, meaning that they at least had a chance at life, isn’t a great idea. Of course they lived a good life, compared to the alternative! I don’t care if the person was 25 or 105, their loved ones are missing them. Many times a person dies at fifty, and the words that they “lived a good life” just aren’t appropriate, because they didn’t get a full chance. It was cut short.
Thirdly, saying that the Lord must have wanted he or she there with him, tends to make people angry at God. Not good, so not good to say. I can guarantee that the person you are saying that to is thinking “Yeah well, the Lord could have waited a while”. Believer or not, implying that the Lord absolutely needed the loved one more then the family did, doesn’t set well. Not in the beginning of the grieving process anyway.
Number four on the list of what not to say to a grieving person is “Well, he or she shouldn’t have drank so much, shouldn’t have smoked so much, shouldn’t have eaten so much, shouldn’t have “whatever” so much. I mean really, how does this help? If the person drank and died from a liver disease, or the person smoked and died from lung cancer, of course they shouldn’t have had those bad habits, but it’s a little late, after they’ve passed away, to bring that up. A good thing to keep in mind is that people die of something every day. 100% of non-smokers die eventually, 100% of non-drinkers die and the list goes on, because we are all basically headed for death from the minute we take our first breath as a newborn.
Number five on the list of not helpful, if the person has lost a child, is to state that they are still young and can have other children. Be that as it may, another child cannot possibly take the place of a child that has passed away. Saying to a widow that she is still young and can get remarried, can be heartbreaking for the widow to hear.
As hard as it may be, there are things you can say that will be cherished to a grieving person. Very few people want to discuss the person that has passed away because it makes them feel uncomfortable, but hearing funny stories of a loved one can brighten the day for those missing that person. Telling the person that they can call you at any time helps, as does asking the person if they would like you to ride to the cemetery with them once in a while to take flowers, etc. Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to “get over it”, don’t tell them the memory will fade with time.
Last but not least, think before you talk. Even if you have the persons best interest at heart, try to remember that they are probably very sensitive and may stay that way for some time. Just be real and don’t worry about trying to make things right, because you can’t. A good friend can be a lifesaver to a person that is grieving. There’s no need for analogy’s or old stand-bys of silly, useless words.