What NOT To Say . . . And Then What To Say

In ministry — whether as a member of the clergy or a member of a church — what you DON’T say is almost as important as what you DO say.

Sometimes even moreso.

This is especially true in times of grief.

What are some things you simply shouldn’t say to families or individuals going through grief?

Because the reality is the most people navigating those first shock-filled days after a death won’t remember much of what you say to them . . . unless you say something really dumb.

Here’s a list of what to avoid:

1. “He’s/She’s in a better place now.” While that may be true, it’s not helpful. For those survivors in the middle of intense grief, the “better place” for that spouse, parent, sibling, or child would be right there next to them, still living and breathing.

2. “Be strong.” God has given us grief and emotion for a reason: to help us through times of traumatic loss. Moans, tears, and sighs are all part of the process. We usually encourage people to “be strong” so we’ll feel more comfortable around them. And here’s the real truth: the strongest people are those who are most honest with their sadness.

3. “Just let me know if I can do anything.” What you’ve just done is put the burden back on the person going through grief. They have to let you know how you can help. Instead, just help. Tell the person when you are coming and what you are bringing.

4. “It’s all part of God’s plan.” Again, what may be true is not always what’s helpful. In an effort to explain God in the midst of tragedy we sometimes end up blaming God for tragedy.

5. “God needed another angel.”  That sounds sweet, it fits on a Hallmark card, but it is simply not true.  Dead people do not turn into living angels.  According to I Corinthians 6:3 that would be a DEmotion:  Do you not know that we will judge angels?

What should you say? How about “I’m sorry”; “I can tell this hurts”; “I love you.”

And let Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:4 shape whatever you say and however you act: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”