16 insensitive platitudes no grieving person wants to hear

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The fact that death is inevitable rarely makes it easier for the person left behind to grieve for a loved one.

And while people say the following things with good intentions, they are actually quite insensitive.

1. You’ll be okay.

Bereavement is essentially a trauma. Sometimes it’s a small ‘t’ trauma that doesn’t interfere with your life for too long, even if it stings for longer. Other bereavements are big ‘T’ traumas—the kind that impact the rest of your life. So, having someone tell you that you’ll be okay is at best pointless and at worst heartless.

2. They wouldn’t want you to be sad.

Oh really? And you know this how? Besides, the deceased is not the one grieving. So even if they would have maintained a stiff upper lip, it doesn’t mean you have to. Being sad is natural—you don’t need anyone’s permission to feel that way.

3. There’s no sense dwelling in the past.

Often paired with “You’ve got to look to the future,” this is a crass statement that invalidates a person’s desire to think about the experiences they had with the deceased and their memories of them. You know what? You live in the past if you want to. (Small caveat: if your grief persists for a long time, you may eventually want to seek counseling for it.)

4. Everything happens for a reason / Everything is part of God’s plan.

This is possibly the worst thing you could say to someone who has recently lost a loved one—even if they believe in a God. Sure, they might be wondering “Why?” as part of their grieving process, but suggesting that there is a reason why the deceased had to die or that some higher power had a hand in it…just no…don’t let these words pass your lips.

5. Life goes on.

Of course it does—don’t you think the grieving person knows that? It’s easy to say but much much harder to live that way in reality. You can’t just move on simply because time stops for no one. Sometimes you have to slow down or stop so that you can feel everything you need to feel. Powering on as if nothing has happened is repression and is asking for trouble later on.

6. You must be strong for…

Throw some dependents into the mix and you might think it’s a good idea to remind the bereaved that they have to be strong for the kids. Or perhaps it’s the other way around with adult children being told they must stay strong for their parent when the other parent dies. But, again, this forces that person to push their feelings down in order to put on a brave face. It’s not healthy and it’s not good advice.

7. They’re in a better place now.

Perhaps the person believes in an afterlife and these words somehow soothe them. But probably not. Even if they think their loved one lives on in another plane of existence, they can’t see them, speak to them, hug them. It still hurts, it’s still raw. And if they don’t believe in an afterlife, these words ring as hollow as can be.

8. Time will heal.

Time may eventually ease the pain of losing a loved one, but it never heals that pain completely. And when someone is in the throes of grief, they can’t think about that moment—possibly months down the road—when their heart won’t hurt like hell as soon as they open their eyes in the morning.

9. You’ll always have the memories.

Yes, memories can bring some semblance of joy to a person’s heart, but they can also bring a deep longing and sense of loss. No matter how good the memories are, they can never replace the physical presence of the person themselves. It’s a bit like telling someone who is dying of thirst that they’ll always have the memories of drinking water.

10. Stay positive.

Why do people insist that positivity is the best and only way forward when hard times befall someone? Sometimes a situation is wholly negative, and a person should feel able to experience and express all those difficult, heart-wrenching emotions rather than plastering a smile on their face just because it suits other people better.

11. This too shall pass.

The practical aspects of a person’s death will indeed pass—the funeral, the tying up of that person’s life in terms of their will, their possessions, their estate. But grief…grief doesn’t pass so easily. At least, not for everyone and not entirely. Grief remains a part of us, often for the rest of our lives.

12. You’re never given more than you can handle.

Seriously? Who says this? Many people are given more than they can handle. Why do you think they have breakdowns? And some grief is so absolutely crushing that the person experiencing it will not be able to cope, not without medication and professional care. Saying this makes a person think they should be coping better than they are—don’t put this on anyone.

13. It’s important to keep busy.

Why? Why should a person fill their time doing things? So that they don’t have to contemplate life without the deceased? So they can just get on with life and forget about all the pain they are feeling? Just let people approach grief in their own way—slowing down and processing their emotions works best for many people.

14. You’re not alone in this.

Only, they are, aren’t they? Even if other people are mourning too, one person’s grief can look very different from another’s. And we are all alone in our own heads, feeling our own emotions, and thinking our own thoughts. Grief can make a person feel very alone, even if there are lots of people around them.

15. They live on through you.

Being told that you are responsible for the memory of the deceased is an awful lot of pressure to put the grieving party under. It’s hard enough for a person to be responsible for their own life and legacy, they shouldn’t be made to feel they have to be the physical manifestation of the deceased’s spirit. It’s too much.

16. Grief is the price we pay for love.

Life, love, grief—these things are not transactional. We don’t “pay a price” for loving someone, we just feel what we feel. Don’t make someone feel that they a paying a penance of pain simply because they dared love someone. And don’t make them feel that they didn’t love someone enough if their grief is not totally destroying them either.

About The Author

Steve Phillips-Waller is the founder and editor of A Conscious Rethink. He has written extensively on the topics of life, relationships, and mental health for more than 8 years.