How not to Talk to the Recently Bereaved

I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of condolences following my father’s death.  The majority have been eloquent, sensitive and thoughtful and whilst they are not easy to receive, they do what they say on the tin – offer comfort and respect.  But there are a few, mostly the verbal ones, that have struck me by degrees as trite, insulting and in a few cases hurtful.

I honestly think that most people have no idea what they sound like when they offer condolences, but I believe people are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances.  For most, having to talk to someone in the midst of loss is a rare occurrence.  For many it brings up painful memories for themselves and makes knowing what to say extremely difficult.  All of these things are understandable.

But in an effort to educate, elucidate and get the bloody thing off my chest, I offer a short course in ‘How not to talk to the recently bereaved.’

Example 1

‘You’ll never get over it’.  F*ck off, yes I will.  You want to condemn me to a lifetime of feeling like this?  Better to say, ‘you must feel awful right now, but you won’t feel like this forever’.  

Many people seem to think that getting over a bereavement is inappropriate.  But as something of a veteran (all four grandparents, both parents, both brothers, both uncles, one aunt, and one cousin) I can tell you that ‘getting over it’ is not wrong.  And you don’t get over it as such, you learn to live with it, without them.  And living well to respect the memory of those that have gone is the point.  Feeling okay about your own life with or without your loved ones is the point.

Example 2

‘You’ll get through it, you’re such a strong person’.  Tricky one this.  Sounds complimentary doesn’t it?  Sounds like the speaker has faith in your ability and knows you well.  Actually, what they’re saying is, ‘please don’t break down in front of me, I can’t handle it.’  What it does is make you hide your nasty horrible grief from view and keep it suppressed.  Years of therapy – cha ching.  

Strength is absolutely the last thing the bereaved have.  They need support, love, encouragement until they find their strength again – which they will.  Wish them courage, offer them help, don’t give them the responsibility of handling this alone because they’re so ‘strong’.  Do normal things with them, talk about the person that has died – bring tissues and you be strong, because one day you may not be so strong yourself and then you will understand why it’s such a horrible thing to suggest that it’s not okay to show weakness.

Example 3

‘You’ll never be the same again.’  Okay, maybe I will be changed but isn’t the loss of a loved one enough – you want to make the bereaved think they’re going to lose themselves too?  Cruel beyond words.  

Telling people they will never be the same again is pointless in fact.  We all change, all the time.  Not just when someone dies.  It implies that you have no value as yourself without the person you’ve lost and is such a strange thing to say.  Better to say, ‘life will be different for you now.’

And finally Example 4

That script that you read from, when you work for a bank, building society, insurance company, whatever call centre it is?  The phrase is ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ not ‘I apologise for your loss.’  Oh honey, it really wasn’t your fault!  Did make laugh that one tho’…

Love and peace


5 thoughts on “How not to Talk to the Recently Bereaved

  1. I really appreciate your frank, respectfully understanding and totally honest expression. Some very good life advice which I may return to some day. I wish you love and comfort in this hard time of your life.

  2. Pingback: How not to Talk to the Recently Bereaved | Xin's Domain

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