family,  Health

Five Things NOT to Say When a Friend is Grieving


Four months ago my mother passed away unexpectedly fast. Hearts broken, we moved through our days barely breathing at times, bursting into tears at the cemetery as we chose our mother’s plot, falling asleep spent. The words “Beloved Mother” on a spray of roses and every childhood memory unravelled at my feet. Sobbing, we set foot inside a flower shop to buy the last flowers we might ever gift her with and hope the florist weighs how much we loved her, translates it into colours.

In the last few weeks, tears have come and gone, sometimes with clear triggers visible like signposts, and other times dropping from the clear blue sky, raining down my cheeks, as the rest of the world seemed to smile. Over the summer life slowed a bit and sadness has been a bit less crushing. This week we face one more milestone. The Guelph Arboretum is home to dozens of memorial trees and this weekend there will be one more there for our mother.
Over the past four months I have been surprised at the places I have found empathy and kindness. Some clients have reached out in such a kind genuine manner that I am forever grateful. One client shared my sadness. Her incredible empathy stemmed from a similar experience recently with her father and has made her a treasured, trusted resource. We knew each other for a couple of years but we grew closer as I was grieving. As a client, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do to nurture that relationship because of her humanity and her heart. That connection made such a huge difference in my grieving process. Some of my twitter followers have shown me their hearts and our digital connection has transcended Facebook and Twitter. Tamara of Wondermoms has been incredible. I DMed her from the cemetery where I was sitting in my minivan bawling and she made me feel less horribly alone. Kristen Paskus was an aquaintance and a blogger on one of my campaigns until then. Her daily, even hourly Facebook messages to me kept me sane. Margarita, Annie, Wanda, Brenda and Lee-Ann are the best friends a person could have, hugging my kids, taking them for sleepovers and asking when and where do you need me?
But there have also been some dimwitted and thoughtless remarks throughout the past four months. I try to maintain a positive space here, but I need to vent today just a little bit. There are a few things you should never ever utter to someone who is grieving. This is a sample of some insensitive statements I have heard recently. Consider this a public service. Don’t ever say them to anyone you wish to stay friends with.
Five Things Not to Say When a Friend is Grieving.
1. Well, at least you had life insurance.
(Pretty callous. Frankly, there isn’t a soul on earth who has truly loved someone and then lost them who  ever thought well yes thank goodness we had life insurance. Do I really have to state this? There is no talk of money allowed during the supportive conversations you should be having.)
Much Better: Were arrangements made? How can I support you with that?
2. I am really upset you didn’t call me for the funeral.
(It was on my Facebook status, in the newspaper, and on line for a week. We even took out ads in out of town newspapers. There were sad heartbreaking posts here on my blog and on twitter.
In between scraping their heart off the floor, it’s understandable that perhaps a person making funeral arrangements, overwhelmed by death might not have had time to call every single person he or she knew to personally invite them to the funeral.
Much Better: I am so very sorry I missed the funeral. I didn’t know. She/He was so lovely. I will always remember when X,Y or Z happened. Share a memory of something she did that you loved or recalled.
3. That’s the way to go.
(I am so sorry for your loss is a much better thing to say. There is No good or kind way to pass away.)
Much Better: There is never a good time.
4. Maybe in time you will see this was a blessing.
(Nobody gets to say that. Period. Maybe in time I will see it for something other than a gaping loss, but right now it just hurts and it’s not kind to say perhaps there was a reason anyone died.)
Much Better – How are you holding up? What can I do to help? Can I get you something while you are grieving? Take your kids for the night? Bring you a meal?
5. I don’t understand how this could have happened.
(Neither do I, but I can’t be the person to console you when I am myself grieving.)
Much Better: I miss her phone calls every morning or her unexpected drive by visits etc. Or say simply she/ he loved you very much. She was so proud of you.
Help and kindness goes a long way to building relationship at a crucial time. We all make mistakes socially but when a friend is grieving you need to get it right. Listen first. Then be a friend. Ask yourself what can I do to make it better.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Lady Bren

    PEople in general are idiots
    However I’ll cut them slack in that so few have any clue what to say never mind how to say it!!
    It is usually those who are fortunate enough to not have suffered a loss who say the stupidest things

  • Mara Shapiro

    I continue to be sorry for your loss. I know that you were very close with your mother. I think people say those things when they feel awkward and don’t know what to say, unfortunately.

  • Nikki

    I can’t believe anyone would say the first four! Very callous! Especially the life insurance one! Seriously? How can anyone think that is appropriate to say to someone who just lost a loved one? The last one I can give leeway with. I wouldn’t say it to the person who is grieving though I don’t think.

  • Deborah Coombs

    I’m not only sorry for your loss, but sorry for you having to feel extra pain through thoughtless comments. I do think sometimes people just don’t know what to say, so they say something stupid. So, yes, your post is a service – pointing out the bad and suggesting much better alternates. I’ve shared.