What not to say to someone who is mourning
By Sharon Miki, Columnist
Whether it’s a death, a divorce, or an unexpected setback, loss and disappointment are all a part of life—and, unfortunately, the older you get, the more likely it is that you will have experienced a personal tragedy. Even if you’ve managed to avoid or deal with your own dramas, chances are that someone close to you is suffering through their own grief right now. While it’s natural to try to comfort the ones we love when they’re suffering, sometimes our instinctive inclinations can do more harm than good. Here are some tips for what not to do when someone you love is mourning.
What’s the best way to help?
First of all, it’s not about you. No matter how much insight you might feel you have based on your own experience, it never helps to try to compare someone’s loss to your own. Even if you and your best friend both happened to lose a grandparent to the Bermuda Triangle, there is really no way that you can fully understand the exact feelings and emotions that your friend is going through. So saying that you “totally understand their feelings” can come across as dismissive and have the opposite effect to the empathic vibe that you were striving to achieve. Even worse, when someone is going through the fresh pain of loss, it isn’t fair to put your own past grief on the table; in that way, you’re putting the new griever in the awkward position of having to comfort you. This isn’t helpful.
In a similar way, never try to one-up the griever. To you, the loss of your girlfriend’s pet dog might seem like small potatoes when you think about how you lost your father as a child; however, telling someone who is in the throes of mourning that they don’t have the right to be upset because you were once much more upset is disrespectful and will only make them resent you once their intense pain has passed. We all have the right to care and love who we want to care and love, so never make someone feel like their loss isn’t significant because you’ve lived through a bigger tragedy.
If you have nothing nice to say, seriously, just don’t say anything. You shouldn’t feel too bad if you find yourself at a loss for words or are uncomfortable around someone in mourning—it’s natural to not necessarily know the perfect thing to say. However, this doesn’t mean that you should overcompensate with trite platitudes; this is not the time for dick jokes to ”lighten the mood,” either. In general, if you really don’t know what to say, the person you love will understand and will appreciate your empathetic presence more than empty Hallmark-isms.
In the end, the sad truth is that we are all going to go through devastating times. Even if today is not your day for sorrow, it’s important to be kind, be thoughtful, and be there for the people around you when they’re suffering. You never know when you’re going to need them to be there for you, too.