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Sticks and stones - words that can hurt

There are a number of things you should never say to someone at a funeral but it can be difficult to know what to say and often words that are inappropriate or lack emotion can come out instead. Here is a short guideline of phrases you should never say.

1 – He/She is in a better place.
There are few people who, while grieving a loss, will agree with you on this one. They may nod but really they are probably wishing for whoever has died to return to them. This has religious connotations and may provide some with relief but not all so is best left unsaid.

2 – He looks so peaceful.
This is one of those classic silence breakers where the person saying it, does not actually believe it but feels the need to say something. Rule number one, silence is okay.

3 – Let me know if there is anything I can do.
This is another classic phrase. Do not say this. Call them, drop by, send an email or a letter, drop in some food, bring them somewhere. They won’t know what you can do, so just do it.

4 – I am sorry for your loss.
This gets said a lot and unfortunately has become generic as a result. A plain ‘I’m sorry’ is better and seems more heartfelt.

5 – I know how you feel.
One of my pet peeves. No-one ever knows how you feel. Whether you have lost a pet, a mother, father, brother, grandmother, aunt, friend, uncle you didn’t even like, nobody will ever know how you feel about that person and the fact that they are not there anymore.

6 – How are you feeling/holding up/keeping?
I can’t presume to know how they are feeling and they will not want to be asked this a million times. Everyone does it but what do they expect the answer to be?

7 – He is finally at peace.
This is said to provide some form of comfort to those who are grieving but it does little to accomplish this.

I have been guilty of a number of these phrases myself over the years and so I know that the uttering of these phrases is never meant maliciously, or inappropriately but they are also void of feeling and are what I now call ‘silence killers’. If you are at a loss for what to say, simply say “I don’t know what to say”. Honesty can be the kindest thing to someone grieving.

My best advice when you are not sure is to give the person a hug as sometimes words are just not enough.
Jennifer Muldowney
Jennifer Muldowney