Tuesday, June 10, 2014

9 Things NOT to Say to Someone Who's Lost Someone They Love

We buried my husband's brother yesterday. Before the viewing, I prepared myself for the usual platitudes people tend to say after a death. Blessedly, I didn't hear any, but I decided to share some of these unwelcome cliches with all of you. Just in case you are tempted to say any of them in the future. These are the ones that really get to me, based on my interpretations of Scripture and the afterlife.

1. God must have needed him/her in Heaven with Him. -- Sorry folks, but there is no comfort in thinking that God would rob someone of their loved one because He "needed" them. Since eternity exists outside of time, God can wait. 

2. He/She is now your Guardian Angel/God wanted a new angel. -- Seriously? Where did this false theology come from? The angels were created, independent of humans. Humans were created after the angels. They do not become angels after they die. There is just no Scriptural justification for this philosophy. None. When a loved one dies, he/she does not become an angel. (see Psalm 148:2-5, Job 38:7, Colossians 1:16)

3. They're in a better place. -- Okay, you got me with this one. If they are with the Lord, they are indeed in a better place. But somehow, that doesn't take away the sting of death for those left behind. Yes, they find consolation that their loved one is no longer suffering or in pain. But they are. The pain is enormous and overwhelming. 

4. You're young and can have more children. -- This one is common after someone has lost a baby. Don't say it. Period. There is no comfort in thinking that one child can be replaced by another.

5. Buck up. Granted, usually this is not said at the funeral home, but it's often muttered weeks or months later when friends and family members grow weary of the grief-stricken one's laments. Let them grieve. Don't rush the process for your convenience. 

6. He/She lived a good life. -- This may be a true statement, but when it's said as a way to almost excuse the death, like he/she wore out their welcome, it's not helpful. Even if the deceased is 99 years old, those left behind are hurting and the death most likely has come too soon for them. 

7. Don't cry; he/she wouldn't want you to be sad. -- I'm sorry, but if someone isn't sad when they've lost a loved one, perhaps it wasn't a loved one after all. Give people permission to cry.

8. Sorry I didn't come to the visitation; funeral homes make me sad. -- Gee, that's okay. We wouldn't want you to feel sad just because we are feeling devastated. We'll give you a call when we're up to partying, okay?

9. He/She is always with you. -- This is a personal favorite of mine as an illustration of what not to say. After my mother died, a bubbly woman I know came up to me, smiled, and said, "Isn't it wonderful how our mothers are always with us?" I wanted to punch her. Not that she didn't mean well, but hey, my mother was not with me anymore. Sure, my memories were strong and her "spirit" would always be there with me. But I couldn't pick up the phone and call her. I could no longer take her out to lunch. I could buy flowers for her for Mother's Day, but I couldn't hand them to her. It was not at all comforting to think she was always with me because, quite simply, she was not.

Now, before I get a bunch of unpleasant comments, let me say that I know people's intentions are good. I know they are uncomfortable and just don't know what to say. I know they are not trying to be mean, cruel, or hurtful. But the above phrases can hurt anyway. 

Keep in mind, funerals and visitations are not for the deceased. They are for the bereaved.

The best thing to say when someone dies is simply, "I'm sorry." A hug. A listening ear. A meal. Flowers. A card. A memory shared. A compassionate eye-to-eye contact. That is what is needed. Not a canned platitude. Not an answer to the question "Why?" There are no answers. People die because they live. That's all. We can't avoid it. So let's not try to smooth it over. It's painful. It can be devastating. And it's final for those left behind. That is, until the day we're all reunited in eternity. But until then, the tears are real. And they're valuable. 

Did I miss any of your favorites? If so, please share them in the comments below. That way we can all learn what not to say. 


  1. One of the toughest things I had to hear after my Grandmother passed (whom I had been caring for as she battled cancer while I was pregnant), was that she "knew" my son before he was even born. Nothing could erase the sting of knowing that the woman who helped raise me wouldn't be around to meet my baby and see him grow.

    1. Oh my. I can only imagine how painful that was. My father died exactly one month before my daughter was born and my mom died while my youngest daughter was expecting. Both instances were very sad.

  2. Excellent post. Thank you. I hate platitudes more than I hate clich├ęs.


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