We live in a death denying and pain-avoidant society.  Grief and loss are often taboo subjects. When faced with death, grief, and loss we often don’t know what to do or say.  This is a societal issue, and not necessarily an individual issue. 

When it comes to speaking with people who have experienced a profound loss, such as the death of a loved one, we may fall back on using platitudes to attempt to convey our thoughts and emotions.  To the person hearing them, it may seem that people are not genuine in their approach or may be trying to avoid the person who is grieving.

Sometimes, when we meet with people who have experienced the death of a loved one it may trigger our own uncomfortable experiences of death and loss.  Some people will feel the depth of another’s grief, and they may become afraid of their own grief.  And this is where we may begin to feel at a loss for words or may tend to fill up the space with many words and platitudes such as “they’re at peace now; or I understand what you’re going through,” and so on.  Platitudes are often simplistic and sound hollow and can be offensive to those experiencing personal, profound grief. 

In honouring our desire to be authentic and to communicate our genuine care and concern, it’s important to use a more insightful alternative.  Here are some examples of what we might use rather than say what might seem more comfortable to say.

What We Tend to Say

I understand how you feel.
At least they’re not suffering anymore.
I am sorry for your loss.         
There’s a reason for everything.       

What We Can Say Instead

I can’t imagine how you’re feeling.

I’m sad that you’re suffering.
I’m sad for your loss.       
I don’t know what to say.  

Avoid altogether:

You should…                                                            

Everything happens for a reason                                           

You’re so strong…                                                       

Let me know if I can do anything…                         

Be sure to:

  • Stay present when speaking with someone who has experienced a loss.
  • Use the name of the person who died and welcome the opportunity to speak about them.

Remember that bearing witness and being present in another’s deep sadness means a lot to them.                                

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