5 Things You Shouldn't Say to People Who Have Lost a Loved One

Jade-Ceres Violet D. Munoz

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Last week, I lost my mother. It is one of the most painful things that I have ever had to go through. I’m still grieving and I am still unsure how to navigate this sea of sorrow.

Over the last few days, I’ve had the oddest encounters with people. Despite all the loss that we are all going through, in one form or another, people seem to have lost a certain sense of decency when it comes to sending their condolences. Maybe this pandemic has desensitized us to the pain others feel when it comes to death.

  1. “I know how you feel” -- The truth is, no one will ever know the pain one goes through after losing a loved one. Each of us has a unique relationship with the person who passed. I ended up talking to several people this week -- my aunts and my mother’s friends. Some have said that they know exactly how I feel. No, they don’t. They probably feel a sense of loss, too. But it is entirely different to how a child feels losing his/her parent. Why don’t we just acknowledge that you are sad and I am sad? We both have feelings, but they are different. There’s no need to compare your feelings of loss to mine or your experiences with death to mine.
  2. “How did she die?” Yes, you want to satisfy your curiosity, but this is not exactly the best time to do it. Unless the bereaved offers the information freely, please don’t pry and ask them to relive their loved one’s last moments. This pandemic didn’t even allow us to have a wake for my mom, so it is particularly irksome when someone asks me this. It’s not even a safety concern for them, but just a matter of wanting to know.
  3. “Keep yourself busy”. I know you probably have good intentions or you feel uncomfortable seeing me cry, but asking me to try to keep busy so I don’t feel how I feel is really insane. Someone even suggested that I clean my house. I really don’t know how to respond to that (although I actually did clean my house). Let me feel how I feel right now. That’s it. You don’t need to make suggestions about what I should do to forget how I feel right now. That’s just plain insensitive.
  4. “Is this true?” This is probably the second-worst message I have received. Please never ever open with this. I don’t think any person would announce their parent’s death for fun. The zinger here is that it wasn’t just one person who asked me that question this week. Why? Why would anyone do this? What kind of response do you expect when you ask this? Shall I say it’s my idea of a joke? It’s hurtful more than anything else.
  5. Saying nothing at all - I get it, I really do. We don’t have physical contact. You found out about my mother’s death via a Facebook announcement. But not saying anything feels like you’ve abandoned me when I needed you the most. My friends have been in my life for over 2 decades and the best I got from some of them was: “My condolences” No one asked how I was doing. Nobody offered to talk. Nobody even said a kind word to me during my darkest hour. It’s not easy to forget something like that when I rise out of this grief I am currently in.

So what can you say instead? Sometimes, the easiest thing to say is to sincerely convey your condolences. “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “You and your family are in my prayers” actually brought me comfort without making me feel the need to be the one to console you in my time of loss. What really helped was having people who genuinely want to listen and those who waited for me to share how I feel instead of unloading their own feelings on me.

Death and grieving are very personal things, sometimes saying the right words can make a world of difference to the person who is currently suffering through unimaginable pain.

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