Condolences: these 4 phrases not to say to console someone

Condolences: these 4 phrases not to say to console someone

When faced with someone who has just lost a loved one, it is normal to want to show support. But in this painful moment, some sentences do not achieve their goal, as a study reveals. It is therefore better to avoid them.

We often feel helpless when faced with a person who has just lost a loved one. What to say, what to do to bring a little comfort? What comes to us is often banal, but above all, as a study reveals, certain phrases can affect a grieving person. Better to know which ones.

Evaluate what consoles or not

The research, published in OMEGA Journal of Death and Dying, involved in-depth interviews with bereaved parents and service providers. It revealed well-meaning but ineffective remarks commonly made by people trying to console the bereaved. This study aimed to understand how friends, family members, and other informal support providers attempt to console those who are grieving, particularly bereaved parents.

The study included 20 bereaved parents and 11 service providers, who were interviewed individually for two hours. Participants were asked to describe their experiences and feelings during the grieving process, specifically related to the death of a child. They were also asked to identify and share what was helpful and unhelpful during these times.

The 4 phrases to avoid

One of the main findings of the study was the harmful impact of remarks made by well-meaning individuals. Participants reported feeling hurt and frustrated by comments intended to console them, but which seemed unhelpful. Here are the ones:

“It was God’s will”

The religious explanation provided as comfort proved unnecessary and sometimes hurtful. The study suggests that individuals should consider the bereaved person’s level of religiosity before offering explanations of this type.

“I know what you are going through, I lost my mother myself”

Comparing one’s grief to that of others, or making inappropriate comparisons, was also cited as unhelpful because these phrases can minimize the unique pain felt by the bereaved and fail to provide the expected comfort.

“You should do this, you know.”

Unsolicited advice would also be unwelcome. Bereaved parents who responded to the questionnaire often felt like these suggestions were an attempt to distract them from their grief. This suggests that offering advice may not be the most helpful approach to consoling a grieving person.

“You’ll see, it will get better (after Christmas, in 6 months…)”

This type of remark is generally perceived as devoid of sensitivity and suggests the expectation of a rapid recovery. The variation “Aren’t you still better?” is perceived as ignoring the grieving process.

How to comfort a loved one?

If certain sentences are clumsy, this does not mean that you should avoid comforting your loved ones in the event of bereavement. But according to the study, it helps to be more aware of what can actually console people. Gestures or words are welcome:

  • Support without judgment from family, friends, spouses and employers is welcome. This helps affected people feel less isolated and alone during a profoundly difficult time;
  • Also validating feelings of the person plays a vital role, allowing them to share their experiences with others who understand their grief;
  • Return to work, or in activity seems to be useful in restoring a structure or a beneficial routine to the bereaved person. Helping them return to work is therefore welcome;
  • Finally, any possible daily help, such as helping with child care, funeral arrangements, and meal preparation is often appreciated and seen as an act of kindness and support, much more useful than a ready-made word.