Appalling Remarks People Say to Those Who Are Grieving

People make appalling comments to us bereft. At a time when we can barely manage to drag ourselves through our days, we have to find the energy and graciousness to make allowances for people’s tactlessness, ignorance, and downright meanness. Most people are unaware of what it feels like to lose a significant part of their life, such as a spouse or a child, and they seem to be terrified of even thinking about that unthinkable happenstance, so they distance themselves from our pain with unfeeling words. They want to believe that the universe makes sense; that God is in his heaven and all is right with the world (except for that one little slip when he let your loved one die); that everything happens for the best. It is almost impossible for people to comprehend that bad things happen for no reason at all, so of course, the deceased had to have done something to cause his or her death.

Although people were generally kind to me after the death of my 63-year-old life mate/soul mate, I still got my share of inexcusable remarks such as:

Blank stare, then, “My second cousin’s great aunt just died.” (How does that in any way relate to my having lost the man with whom I shared the past thirty-three years of my life?)

“I didn’t know he smoked.” (He didn’t. And what does smoking have to do with kidney cancer?)

“How did allow himself to get so sick?” (He took excellent care of himself, better than anyone else I ever met.)

“I know how you feel. My cat just died.” (There simply is no response to this.)

“You’ll find someone else.” (What kind of comfort is that supposed to be, especially a few days after the death of the one man who ever truly loved me and had time for me?)

“It’s God’s will.” (You don’t want to know what I think of a God who allows a good man to suffer for years and then die a horrible death just to satisfy His whims.)

“God never gives you more than you can handle.” (Wanna bet?)

“Everything happens for the best.” (Who’s best?)

As grief continues, even those who started out kind become impatient. They say things such as:

“You have to get on with your life.” (This is my life).

“He wouldn’t want you to grieve.” (Well, then, he shouldn’t have died!)

“Get over it.” (I’ll get over it when he gets over being dead.)

But the worst thing anyone ever said was:

“God will never take something away from you without replacing it with something better.” It’s bad enough to say (as so many people did) “God never closes a door without opening a window.” At least this door/window analogy acknowledges that the replacement might not be as good as what was lost. But for someone to say that He will replace what was taken with something better is totally reprehensible. How could He possible replace my life mate/soul mate/business partner/best friend/comforter/supporter/companion with anyone or anything that would be better than what I had? If you lose a job, perhaps (in a good market) you can find a better one. If you lose your wedding ring, perhaps you can buy a better one. But a person? How can one unique individual be replaced with another?

Besides, I know for a fact that the aphorism is wrong. It’s been twenty-one months since my mate was taken from me, and though many things, both good and bad, have happened to me in these months, nothing comes even close to being as good as what I once had.

Click here if you want to know: What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

13 Responses to “Appalling Remarks People Say to Those Who Are Grieving”

  1. Joy Collins Says:

    Pat, I think I heard just about all of those stupid stupid [yes stupid x 2] comments too. In my case, though, the stupid lady told me her dog had died instead of her cat. And I told her what I thought of her comment too. I used to suffer in silence but now I tell people what I think of their hurtful comments. I figure if they are that unfeeling I don’t care if they go away. In fact, they do me a favor if they do. I don’t feel like I have anything else left to lose now anyway.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I did try to be understanding of people’s ignorance, but yikes. When your heart has been ripped from your body, and your world lies shattered at your feet, it’s not fair that you are also expected to be kind to the kindless.

  2. Namaste Consulting Inc Says:

    Reblogged this on Namaste Consulting Inc. and commented:
    A person could write a whole book on just this topic. My heart aches when I hear some of the things people say and I really wonder if they think they would want to hear those words if their heart was broken open….

  3. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    Pat, by and large, people don’t mean to be unkind. Half the time they have no clue as to what to say. In those circumstances, some of the oddest things come out of their mouths. There are those that look for common ground–I lost my cat, pet, whatever. They simply don’t realize how horrible that sounds. Platitudes of comfort based on their faith, while meant to be kind, don’t take into consideration it may not mean the same to us. Or we’re in the angry stage of our grief and all that does is piss us off, not comfort.

    A close friend recently lost their mate of thirty plus years. She was dearly loved by me and my son. My son said, “Mom, I don’t know what to say to him. I’m afraid I’ll sound stupid and say the wrong thing.” I told him, that’s fine. Words are always hard to find when faced with a loss like this. Simply tell him you’re so sorry for his loss. That works just fine and you can give him a hug like you always do.

    I’ve had some serious losses in the past few years. I’ve had a few who have said really dumb things. I had one person say, “it’s a beautiful thing to be there when they pass on to the next step of their journey.” I was flabbergasted. Say what? I’ll admit, I didn’t handle it all that well. I said, there’s nothing beautiful about it. Have you ever watched someone you love die? They fight against it, against that last breath.It’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever see. Rarely is it peaceful and there is nothing beautiful about it. It’s horrible and it breaks your heart.

    Do you get over the grief? Time does diminish the sting and shredded feeling of your heart, but there is a hole there. Even if you are lucky enough to find another person to love and love you, it doesn’t replace anything. That person merely has a different piece of your heart and it’s a different life. Can you be happy with another? Sure and many are very happy. I’m glad for their happiness. But everyone walks the road of grief differently and most people do get on with their life–what choice do they have but to continue on and put their life back together the best they can. Yes, there are those very few who make grief their life. I’m sad for them.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Sia, Of course most people don’t mean to be unkind. They are merely ignorant about the true nature of grief, but still, it is ironic that when we were at our most vulnerable, we have to be considerate of their feelings and make allowances for their tactlessness.

      And no, death is not beautiful. Thinking of all he suffered still makes me sick to my stomach.

      I am sorry about all your losses and the holes they left behind.

  4. Jan Says:

    Thank you, Pat.

  5. Mary Friedel-Hunt Says:

    The most helpful thing a person said to me: she asked how I was and because I did not know her well at all I responded with my “hanging in there” statement. She looked right at me and said, “that’s a lie isn’t it?” I began to cry and she put her arms around me. We became closer that day…and I barely knew her before that incident. She still asks when I bump into her, still hugs, expects me to be honest and has no expectations that I am “oh, just fine” as others hope I will say. We need more people like her on this planet. The loneliness of this loss is made far worse by how few people know how to deal with someone’s grief.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      The most comforting thing anyone did for me came from a clerk at the grocery store where we shopped. It was obvious something was wrong, because after almost two decades of always shopping with him, there I was, alone. The clerk asked how he was, and I felt disloyal, but we’d just gotten the diagnosis, and I needed to tell someone. So I told her. Shortly after he died, I had to go to the store, and she asked how he was. I just shook my head, and mumbled something like, “he didn’t make it.” I couldn’t even say the words, “He died.” Just couldn’t do it. She started crying, too, and hugged me. I will always be grateful for her tears. Not enough tears had been shed for him.

  6. Michael Kay Says:

    I agree that many people don’t seem to know what to say when faced with another’s grief, which I can understand. When I recently lost my mother I found some people’s messages (verbal or written) to be more or less comforting than others, but I chose to take solace from them all because I knew that they all came from the right intentions, the right feelings. I have written in more detail about some of this in one of my own blog entries, called ‘the mechanisms of mourning’. I would be interested to hear what you think.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Interesting article, Michael. Thank you for directing me there.

      Now, I am appalled at the callous things people said to me, but at the time, all words, hugs, tears brought me comfort.

  7. CJ Says:

    I believe people feel uncomfortable and have an awkward time trying to find something to say (esp. face to face) that in their nervous attempt to give you their sympathy they blurt out something that just comes out incredibly wrong. The whole unpleasant and unfamiliar territory of death makes a bizarre breeding ground for verbal atrocities…and some unfortunate opportunities for those who hold some contempt, as well, when they lack the social grace to know when or where the appropriate place is for any bitterness or vitriol.

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