What Not to Say When A Death Occurs… and Better Alternatives

Sometimes, the words simply come out wrong when talking to those who have recently had someone cremated. It’s okay to admit – it happens to all of us. I hear it often among grieving families and friends. Someone tries to say something comforting, but the sentiment badly misses the target. Other times, mourners don’t realize the words they just said may do more harm than good.

I recently read a great article by Chris Raymond, the longtime editor of The Director, and writer for About.com. Here are some of his least favorite expressions commonly heard at cremation memorials and funeral along with some better alternatives.

1. “I know how you feel.”

No, you don’t.

Even if your circumstances were very similar, you still don’t know how someone else feels about losing his or her spouse, parent or child. Like our personalities, the way in which each of us reacts and responds to grief is unique. Stating that you know how anyone else feels is condescending.

A better approach: If you experienced the death of someone close and feel the need to reference it, turn it into an open-ended offer. For example, you might say, “When my mom died, I blamed myself for not spending more time with her. If you’re feeling that way, please know that I’m here to talk any time you want.”

2. “He’s in a better place now.”
Anyone who says this has clearly never grappled with the forever-loss of someone close. The survivors (and most others mourning a death) think that the best place for their deceased loved one is right by their side and among the living. Telling a griever otherwise suggests that he or she should somehow feel happy about the loss and that crying and showing anguish about the situation is out of place.

A better approach: Share you favorite memory of the deceased, if appropriate, which can help recall other warm memories about his or her life.

3. “Let me know if I can help.”

This is a very common offer that the speaker thinks is harmless, even helpful. But telling someone hurting due to a death – and already mentally exhausted by the multitude of decisions he or she made in the past few days including the cremation arrangements – that you want him or her to make yet another decision is insensitive and burdensome.

A better approach: Make the offer genuine and thoughtful. If you sincerely wish to help the griever at some point, then simply state you will phone him or her next week once things have settled down a bit. And when you do call, you should have a specific suggestion or two instead of leaving it up to the bereaved individual. You might offer to cut the grass, clean the house or pick up some groceries. Perhaps most appreciated will be an offer to bring over a meal and simply spend some time listening, if the individual feels like talking, or to provide some quiet companionship.

At aCremation, our top priority is helping guide families through their loss as painlessly as possible. We provide professional, certified grief counselors anytime, day or night, to speak with you. If you or a loved one is located in one of the areas we serve, (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Waco, Texas or San Francisco / Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego, California), they would be honored to assist you in setting up your cremation arrangements.

We encourage families who have used aCremation’s services and wish to access a grief counselor to call our toll-free number, 877-353-3626, and you will immediately be put in touch with a counselor.

Mary Beth Barnett

About Mary Beth Barnett

Mary Beth Barnett is a licensed Funeral Director in Texas. Her involvement with aCremation began before our doors opened – researching how we could provide affordable cremations and still keep quality and service standards high. Through this process, she developed a passion for working with families who are going through one of the most stressful phases of life – planning for death.

One Response to What Not to Say When A Death Occurs… and Better Alternatives

  1. Thank you, Mary Beth, for excerpting my article from About.com’s Dying, Funerals & Grief website on your site. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    If you would like to read the original complete article, you can find it at my website:
    http://dying.about.com/od/funeralsandmemorials/a/Funeral-Etiquette-5-Things-You-Should-Never-Say.htm

    Chris Raymond
    About.com’s Expert on Dying, Funerals & Grief

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