What to say and what not to say to someone that is grieving

Finding the right words to say to someone who has been bereaved can be really tough, and though you have the best of intentions, sometimes you end up hurting them more by saying the wrong things. Have you ever found yourself in that position of saying something really inappropriate?
Here are a few pointers on what to say and what not to say.


Do you laugh when someone’s grocery bag bursts? Do you find yourself stealing cabs? Have you shouted at puppies?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you may have Empathy Deficit Disorder.

For this Crowdwise, I asked you to recount some helpful things people said or did when you were in mourning — and to share some things that were decidedly unhelpful.

Your responses make it clear that Empathy Deficit Disorder (not a real condition, but maybe it should be) has reached epidemic proportions:

  • “After our daughter was stillborn,” wrote Wendy Thomas, “a colleague told me I shouldn’t have used the photocopy machine.”
  • “My first husband died of cancer when he was 35 and I was 26,” recounted Patrice Werner. “I still recoil when I think of the number of people who said, ‘You’re young; you’ll find someone else.’”
  • “My only child, Jesse, committed suicide at age 30,” Valerie P. Cohen recalled. “A friend wrote, ‘I know exactly how you feel, because my dog just died.’”

To be fair, knowing the right thing to say doesn’t come naturally. We’re neither born with that skill nor taught it. Our society generally avoids talking about death and grieving. Many of us haven’t had much experience with people in desperate emotional pain, so it’s not always obvious when we’re helping and when we’re hurting.

May the following pointers be your guide, brought to you by people who’ve been on the receiving end.