What Should You Say To Someone Who's Lost A Family Member? 9 Cliches To Avoid — And 3 Things That Might Help

December 26, 2022 – 06:20 pm

I always knew I'd enter a stage in my life when many of my friends and I would lose our parents, but I never imagined it would start in my mid-twenties. When I lost my dad 14 months ago, I learned that we are rarely as vulnerable as when we lose someone unexpectedly. Each misguided comment I heard from someone trying to console me simultaneously felt like the least sensitive thing someone could possibly say — and also incredibly trivial. But what should you say to someone who's lost a family member? The answer isn't always clear, but I can certainly contest that there are some things you definitely shouldn't say to a grieving person.

After being on the receiving end of several of these more ignorant comments, I began to realize that most of these phrases are said simply because people are afraid of saying "the wrong thing." For me, the only wrong comments were those that were misguided, rehearsed, and said without thought. Those are the comments which tend to be repeated over and over for every death.

While I appreciate the thought and understand the need people feel to say something, I would much rather hear the "wrong thing" said sincerely than the totally insensitive or misguided “right thing.” I understand how awkward and helpless people feel in the face of grief. I understand that no matter how many funerals you've been to, it doesn't become easier to know what to say. I don't think anyone intentionally says hurtful things; instead, I think the desire to say anything and to help makes us go back to those phrases that are repeated so frequently they lack meaning.

So with that in mind, here are nine of the worst comments I heard in the days and weeks following my dad’s death — comments that might be considered the “right thing, ” but which felt rehearsed, staged, and insincere.

1. “It Happened For A Reason”

Every time I heard this, in my mind, I screamed, “You have a crappy belief system if you think my dad dying from the flu at 50 happened for a reason!”

I suppose when taken literally it did happen for a reason: my dad didn't go to the doctor when he wasn't getting better. But I don’t think that’s what people mean when they say it happened for a reason. Frankly, if you think it happened for a reason, fine, but keep that to yourself because it does nothing to address my pain.

2. “Everything Will Be Okay

Really? You think it will be okay that I’ll never see my dad again? You think it will be okay that my future children will never meet their grandfather? You’re wrong. It won’t ever be okay.

Amidst confusion and chaos, it's normal to want order and to make sense of things, but in an unexpected, sudden death there is no sense. If everything were okay, I would be able to text my dad right now.

My dad used to say everything won’t be okay. I’m gonna stick with that instead.

3. “You Look Great!”/ “You Look So Skinny!”/ “That Dress Is Great On You!”

Really? I’ve been crying for four days, haven’t slept more than two hours in a row, and haven’t eaten. I assume I’ve showered at some point, but I know I do not look great. And guess what? It doesn’t matter. Because my dad is dead.

I asked my brother about this — and he told me that nobody said any of these things to him. It seems that even in grief, some people only know to comment on a woman’s appearance.

4. “You Should Figure Out Some Coping Mechanisms”

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The Mother's Guide to the Meaning of Life: What Being a Mom Has Taught Me About Resiliency, Guilt, Acceptance, and Love (Guides to the Meaning of Life)
Book (Skyhorse Publishing)

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