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Many people really don’t know what to say to a bereaved person. 

Often, because they don’t really know what to say or do, there may be a large disconnect between what people feel and want to express and the way they express it. Because they often don’t know any better, they can sometimes say seemingly hateful, inappropriate and unkind things. Sometimes, sadly, I guess they may just choose to be cruel.

In our grief, the way we hear and react to what people express my not connect with what they mean either. Things we hear from strangers or casual acquaintances can also have very different meanings and intensity when we hear them from close friends or family for good or ill.

When hearing what people say, we are often so raw and so emotional that almost anything can make us sad or start us crying. It can often make us angry when something someone says sounds insensitive or even cruel whether it was or not, whether it was meant that way or not. Sometimes we can get angry when what we hear doesn’t meet our expectations of what we would want to hear or what we expect a particular person to express. Something hearing nothing may be more hurtful and painful then any words! 

How can we help and guide others to say and do more sensitive things? How can we learn to grow less sensitive when people say or do things that seem hateful or cruel or just plain wrong? 

Is there really any way to control what people say? Can we learn to accept the casual, unthinking comments and let them go? How can we learn to let go of our expectations of what should or shouldn’t be said? How can we learn to find peace when nothing is said, especially from those we expect (kind) words and reactions from?

Hopefully, these questions and the lists below will help you as you try to find your way through these often difficult encounters. As always, there are no universal answers, just questions to ask yourselves and some things shared by others to help you navigate this part of your grief journey!

Words or phrases we would or would not want to hear:  

Because there are many things that people say that make us less than pleased when we hear them and other things we would like to hear that we often don’t, here is a list compiled from people in support groups over the years, of things people both want and don’t want to hear other people say for you to talk about. 

Things we don’t necessarily want to hear:

  • How was your day? How are you doing? How are you feeling? (should we respond honestly?)
  • They are in a better place.
  • This too will pass. 
  • If your faith had been stronger this probably wouldn’t have happened.
  • Aren’t you glad it’s over?
  • You will meet someone else.
  • You just need to find/enter another relationship, get another person to fill the space and it will all be ok.
  • So, when are you moving back home?
  • A child telling a spouse, “you don’t have any reason to be here any more.”
  • You’ll have so much more time now.
  • Aren’t you glad you’re not a caregiver anymore and can get on with your life?
  • Well, that doesn’t surprise me.
  • Having people trying to or actually taking over your life, offering or even demanding to manage your finances or how and where you live.
  • People suggesting that it’s time to clean out the old stuff from your life/home and offering unwanted help for you to move on. “Let me know when I can come over next weekend and we can do that.”
  • You should be or I thought you were over it by now.
  • Are you still going to those support group meetings?
  • Get over yourself.
  • People turning the conversation to how they feel and making it about them.
  • Others??

Things that would be helpful to hear or experience:

  • If someone said nothing and then just let me ramble and cry.
  • If someone would just hug me and hold my hand and let me talk.
  • What would your spouse or partner have wanted for you.
  • Someone to take the time to ask you questions about your relationship and your spouse or partner and maybe special times you want to recall.
  • Having understanding people in the workplace who give you the the time and space you need to grieve in.. your boss tells you to feel free to close your door and cry or what ever else you need to do.
  • Can you try to explain how you feel to me?
  • It was so nice to have had your spouse or partner as a friend.
  • Have someone do something practical to help.
  • Don’t give me advice.
  • I think you are doing well.
  • Any type of encouragement.
  • People showing that they care about you and how you are doing.
  • Understanding that support meetings are for support for as long as we need it. They don’t necessarily make us get better.
  • Encourage the non-bereaved to let it be all about you!

Let’s add to these lists and then perhaps tell stories of things we have experienced that were or are still hurtful or were wonderful and maybe still make us feel good.


  • What have you heard that was insensitive, inappropriate, just plain cruel or really made you angry!
  • What are the best things someone said or did?
  • What would you like people to say and do to/for you when they encounter your bereavement for the first time?
  • How has the work environment been for you if you are still working?
  • ***Has how you might react to another bereaved person changed since you experienced your own bereavement? 
  • What might you say or do now that is different?