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6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Words are powerful. They have the power to hurt or heal.

But sometimes we say things that we think offer comfort, when in reality, they actually hurt the people we love. We have a responsibility to guard our words, especially when someone is emotionally vulnerable, like after the death of a loved one.

Consider avoiding these phrases when speaking to a friend or loved one who has lost someone close to them (regardless of whether the loss was recent or further in the past).

“I know how you feel.”

It’s true that you may have suffered a similar loss, but you have not suffered this particular loss. The temptation here is to engage in “troubles talk” to find common ground with the person and, in a way, share the burden of the loss. But this comment assumes that you know the complex emotions of the bereaved and that you have felt each one exactly as they do. This is impossible. Rather than hearing your desire to show how much you understand, the bereaved person hears: “I don’t want to understand your specific situation” or “I want to talk about myself.” Every loss is one that has never been experienced before. Every person feels, processes, and heals in a different way. Instead, you might say, “I know every loss is different in its own way, but something that helped me when I lost my mom was (insert helpful suggestion here),” or just simply and sincerely ask, “How are you doing?

“You’re so strong.”

You may intend this to be received as a compliment, but what you’re communicating is, “I expect you to be strong enough to keep your emotions in check through all of this.” This may or may not be your intention, but the result is that the grieving person feels like they can’t share what they truly feel because you expect them to “stay strong.” No matter how “put together” a person looks on the outside, on the inside, they may be experiencing incredible pain. A comment about how strong they are takes away their option to express any vulnerability or genuine emotions to you. You essentially become an unsafe person to talk to. It may invite a more honest response, and you should be ready with your emotional support, but instead, consider saying, “It’s okay to cry.”

“Sometimes we just don’t understand the will of God.” Or, “God must have needed another angel in heaven.”

These phrases and many similar ones are often used in Christian religious circles, and whether by intention or not, they essentially blame God for the death of a loved one. While it is true that we may not fully understand the will of God, these platitudes are not helpful because they contradict the Christian belief in a loving God whose original creation did not include death. In the story of Adam and Eve, death only entered the world after the fall of man and was not in God’s original design. Death is now a natural part of life. It is appropriate to pray for others and seek comfort from God after loss, but not blame him for the loss. Instead, consider saying “I’ve been thinking about you so much” or “You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers.”

“She’s/he’s in a better place.”

When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you don’t want them to be in a “better place.” You want them to be here, now, with you. In time, it may be a comfort to think of a loved one in heaven. But in the midst of the deep sorrow of NOW, it’s difficult to find comfort or healing in the phrase. Simply be there, and consider asking them questions about the loved one they’ve lost.

“If there’s anything I can do for you, just call me.”

Take note: the grieving person is not going to call you. They aren’t going to want to inconvenience you, even though your offer may be entirely sincere. Instead, take the initiative, and do something intentional. Tell them you are going to pick them up for lunch the following week. Ask them what day you can swing by to drop off dinners for the week. Or, call them every week or so just to check in. As you are intentional, they will feel your love and support.

“It’s been a while since she/he died. Isn’t it time to move on?”

Grief has no expiration date. Allow your loved one the time they need to grieve and put no expectations on them. You can lovingly suggest a grief counselor, ask about the person they lost, but don’t push them. Don’t try to fix their pain. Loving them through their grief will help them along the path to healing much more smoothly than your impatience.

To learn 6 more things you should never say to a grieving person, click here. Also, if you’d like tips on what you SHOULD say, take a moment to read “What Should I Say to Someone Who is Grieving?

Grief at Work: Helping an Employee or Coworker After a Loss

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

When we think of grief, we often think in terms of how it will affect us, our family members, or our closest friends. But grief hits everyone, and it undoubtedly spills over into our professional lives as well. If you hold any job for a significant period of time, you will likely see an employee or coworker struggling with grief. If this happens, consider applying the following tips to best express your support.

Be Patient: If you are an employer, this simple instruction is particularly important. On average, Americans receive four days of paid leave in the aftermath of a loss. After this short time, employees are expected to return to work and fully engage in their assigned tasks, which often seem overwhelming when combined with the stress that is occurring in their personal life. In a study on grief’s effects on job performance, 75% of participants claimed that they experienced concentration difficulties that extended beyond the period of paid leave.

If you are managing a grieving employee, you may want to consider providing more paid leave. If this isn’t an option, and the employee must return to work after a short period, it is important that he or she feels safe and comfortable in the work environment. Be patient with the employee, communicate your sympathy, and consider temporarily reassigning any tasks or projects that require a high level of creativity or energy. Grief tends to cloud thoughts and reduce energy levels. However, some people throw themselves into their work after losing a loved one. Everyone handles grief in different ways, so be prepared to be flexible with a grieving coworker.

Say Something: One of the most discouraging things about the grief journey is that people tend to shy away from the mourner. This is problematic, because more often than not, those who have lost loved ones need some sort of expression from others to let them know that they are supported. If you don’t know what to say to a coworker or employee, be honest about your uncertainty, and consider communicating something like this: “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry for your loss. If you need anything or if I can help with…(fill in the blank).” Often, people give a general statement offering help in any way. Be specific. If you know you can help with a project or take some stress off of your coworker, even if it’s only for a while, be sure to offer. Of course, you can always help by providing a meal, donating to a special cause on their behalf, or leaving a card or a small, simple sympathy gift on their desk. Any small gesture could make a world of difference in allowing your colleague to feel understood and supported at work.

Keep the focus on the mourner: While you certainly shouldn’t ignore a grieving coworker, and should communicate your sympathy as clearly as possible, it is also important that you don’t use this conversation as an opportunity to seize the spotlight. When talking with a coworker, the emphasis of the conversation should always be on the needs of the mourner. While well-intended, stories of your lost loved ones are generally not appropriate at this time. To the mourner, these attempts at grief identification indicate that you are assuming that you know how they feel, which can be construed as presumptuous and offensive.

For many people, the challenge is to avoid giving too much advice or easy answers.  There’s nothing wrong with offering support or a word of encouragement, but be careful to avoid telling the person what to do or how to feel. Platitudes or cliches tend to minimize the other person’s pain and send the wrong message. If you are tempted to “make it better” by telling them that their loved one is in a better place or they are at least no longer in pain, don’t. Let them tell you how they feel, and simply express your sympathy and support: I’m so sorry for your loss. If you need anything please let me know.  No advice that you give is going to fix a person’s situation, and when you realize this simple fact, you are better able to offer genuine help.

Check in occasionally: For the first few weeks after loss, mourners typically receive an abundance of support and help. As time goes by, the shock and numbness wear off, but that’s when the reality sets in. Their loved one is not coming back. If the loss is an immediate family member, be sure to check in every few months and genuinely ask “How are you holding up?” Don’t assume they are “strong” because they are doing well at work. Allow them to tell you how they are coping and mention their loved one by name. The sweetest sound to a mourner’s ears is usually the name of their loved one being remembered by others.

Regardless of the specifics of the situation, losing a loved one is hard. But the pain of loss can be compounded by the stressful demands of the workplace. Those who are obligated to return to work soon after a loss are particularly vulnerable to stress and work frustration. As a coworker or an employer, it’s important to take steps to make a grieving worker feel as comfortable and supported as possible.


Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Readings are a great way to enrich a funeral ceremony. As Dr. Wolfelt tells us, readings are an important element of the service because they speak to “word people,” help us search for meaning in the loss, and activate support.

Poems are a particularly powerful type of reading that contribute to what Wolfelt refers to as the “sweet spot” of a meaningful funeral experience. For this reason, we have included ten great poems that can enhance a funeral ceremony. If you are thinking of including a poetry reading in memory of a loved one, you may want to consider using one of these profound poems.

10. “Dear Lovely Death
         by Langston Hughes

Famed Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was a master of economy, and his “less is more” approach is perfectly realized in “Dear Lovely Death.” Hughes packs an extraordinary amount of insight into a mere 10 lines, and the result is a powerful and hopeful piece that speaks to funeral audiences. Hughes suggest that death does not destroy or eradicate, but merely changes the nature of those that it touches. The idea of death as change strikes an important balance for a funeral setting. Hopeful but not naïve, it allows us to see the situation in a more comforting light while never denying the reality of death.

9. “A Clear Midnight
       by Walt Whitman

This short piece by Whitman turns conventional poetic imagery on its head. While most poems use midnight to evoke negative, frightening emotions, Whitman sees the night as a time of calm and peace. When applied to a funeral setting, the flight of the soul “into the wordless” can be viewed as a metaphor for death, and this image touches mourners by depicting death as a place of rest.

8. “Death is a Door
       by Nancy Byrd Turner

Like “Dear Lovely Death,” Turner’s poem views death as a time of transition and change, and like “A Clear Midnight,” it emphasizes the calming nature of death. Through the use of nature imagery such as “garden” and “green leaves,” Turner evokes a sense of rejuvenation, and implies that death gives birth to new life, though we can’t yet see what this new life looks like. Turner’s assertion that the threshold of death is eagerly crossed by “willing and weary feet” implies that whatever lies on the other side of the doorway of death is more encouraging than frightening.

7. “Requiem
       by Robert Louis Stevenson

Few people know that Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the famous novels Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, also penned one of the greatest poems about death. The short and simple “Requiem” is written from the perspective of the deceased, who is clearly satisfied with the life that he lived. “Glad did I live and gladly die,” he proudly claims, and his contentment regarding the journey from life to death is comforting and encouraging. Families who feel that their loved one lived a full and wonderful life may consider using this poem at the service to remind themselves that their loved one is at peace.

6. “The Road Not Taken”
       by Robert Frost

One of the most famous poems of all time, Robert Frost’s masterpiece is not in a strict sense a “funeral poem.” It isn’t specifically about death, and it doesn’t attempt to encourage mourners or to ponder the transience of life. But it’s a wonderful tribute to a life well lived. The closing lines, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” are a testament to a person that broke the mold and embraced life to the fullest. If you are looking for a piece that celebrates the unique life of your loved one, consider reading this ode to originality.

5. Success
       by Bessie Anderson Stanley *

Another poem that deals less with death than with the celebration of a life, this famous essay-turned-poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley analyzes the true meaning of success. Success is not embodied in a person who chased after shallow achievements such as popularity or material wealth, but rather by a person who “laughed often, and loved much,” and “left the world better than he found it.” A fitting tribute to the life of a loved one who understood the true value of life and spent his or her time engaged in honorable pursuits, this classic poem will bring encouragement to funeral audiences and allow them to reflect on the meaningful life of the deceased.

4. “When Great Trees Fall
       by Maya Angelou

This extraordinary work by the late Maya Angelou emphasizes the ripple effect that is created by the death of a great person. Angelou suggests that the deep hurt that we feel when losing a loved one is a testament to the brilliance of that individual’s life. While grief may hurt, it is an important indicator that the loved one made a difference and positively impacted the lives of others. The poem suggests that the time of grief is extremely difficult, but that “after a period peace blooms.” As we move through the grief journey, we come to accept the reality of the death and are able to recall the memories of the deceased to motivate us as we continue to find meaning in our lives.

3. “Death, Be Not Proud
       by John Donne

Perhaps the most famous poem to address mortality, John Donne’s 17th century classic is a tightly structured and perfectly realized refutation of the permanence of death. In a mere 14 lines, Donne sets out to bruise Death’s ego, and his skill matches his ambition. He challenges death by comparing it to rest and sleep, “which but thy pictures be.” While death marks a stronger transition than sleep, Donne views both states as temporary. The final line, “Death, thou shalt die,” indicates Donne’s strong belief in an afterlife. For this reason, “Death, Be Not Proud” is a great choice for religious ceremonies. It is important to realize that Donne’s poem shouldn’t keep us from acknowledging the reality of death in this world; death separates us from our loved ones, and it is okay to grieve. Rather, it should encourage those who are religious by reminding them that the soul of their loved one is at peace.

2.”If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking
by Emily Dickinson

In this compact, seven-line poem, Dickinson doesn’t waste time on flowery language or indulgent imagery. Her approach to the material is clear, concise, and direct. The primary theme of the poem is the importance of love, which trumps all other human virtues. The speaker claims that if she can help another living being, then she “shall not live in vain.” The size of the act is less important than the intention behind the act. A person need not have his or her good deeds recognized as grand accomplishments to live a great life. Rather, living a full and meaningful life is accomplished by spreading love wherever and however one can. Dickinson’s heartfelt poem is a great choice for the funeral of a loved one who dedicated their life to helping others.

1. Psalm 23
    A Psalm of David, The Book of Psalms (KJV)

The most famous and revered of all the psalms speaks directly to our desire for peace, both for ourselves and for our loved ones. Psalm 23 is perfect for a funeral ceremony because it applies as well to the mourners as it does to the deceased. When David claims, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” he’s expressing a sentiment that not only encourages us when thinking about a dearly departed loved one, but also gives us the strength to continue on our grief journey. The “valley of the shadow of death” can refer to those who are making the transition from life to death and to those who are trying to face life after losing a loved one. For religious ceremonies, this is a wonderful choice, a beautiful testament to God’s ability to bring comfort and peace to his children in dark times. A cry of faith amidst the storms of life, Psalm 23 is the perfect funeral reading.



*”Success” is often incorrectly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, usually with the inclusion of the famous line: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”




Dealing with Grief in the Aftermath of Suicide

By AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

The 21st century has seen a significant rise in suicide rates. Nearly 45,000 American lives are lost to suicide every year, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Even in the last few years and months, we’ve seen a number of well-known and well-loved people take their own lives: Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and Chris Cornell, to name a few. For those left to mourn the death, suicide is a devastating act that can cause severe emotional distress. If you have recently lost a loved one to suicide, consider the following tips to help you through this difficult time.

Don’t give guilt or anger a foothold

In the aftermath of suicide, it is common for family members to feel a range of emotions from guilt to depression to anger at the person who has died. Loved ones may ask themselves what they could have been done to prevent the tragedy and become overwhelmed by guilt. If you have lost a family member or friend to suicide, the most important thing to realize is that the death was not your fault. Oftentimes, suicide is a direct result of mental illness and severe depression, which cloud a person’s ability to see the world accurately.

Realizing these fundamental truths – that your loved one was suffering from a mental illness and that their death was not your fault – can allow you to understand and sympathize with your loved one. Free yourself from guilt and anger and embrace compassion. After a loss, it is often helpful to participate in healing actions. For example, tell the story of your loved one’s life, find ways to honor their memory, and cultivate compassion for others who suffer from mental illness.

Find a good therapist

Grief therapy can be helpful for anyone experiencing the pain of loss, but for those who have lost loved ones to suicide, it is particularly beneficial. The traumatic nature of suicide makes loved ones more susceptible to intense psychological distress, and professional help is required in many of these cases. The counseling helps suicide loss survivors see the situation more clearly, and a trained therapist can help you to understand the psychiatric problems your loved one faced. He or she may also be able to help you recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking that will help you to grieve in a healthy manner.

Surround yourself with people you love

Stay connected with the people in your life who matter to you. Isolation breeds unhappiness, especially after a traumatic event. If you are a person of faith, visit with people in your spiritual community. Invite friends over or go out to social events. Talk to family members often, and look for opportunities to socialize with others. Those who have lost loved ones to suicide often struggle with depression in the months after the loss, and studies indicate that social interaction is a great way to decrease depression. Friends and family members can keep you anchored in a routine, and their love will provide you with a sense of safety, security, and familiarity.

Join a support community

In addition to staying in contact with close friends and family (or especially if you don’t have close friends or family), you may want to consider finding a support community. After a loss, you may feel totally alone. Joining a support group will help you realize that you aren’t alone and will allow you to form new connections that will give you strength and encouragement as you travel down the road to healing.

Groups such as Survivors of Suicide Loss (SOSL) allow you to hear the experiences of others who have lost loved ones to suicide. They also give you the opportunity to share your thoughts (if you wish to). You might find that expressing your feelings in a welcoming and sympathetic environment helps you work through the loss and provides the encouragement you need to continue your journey.

Be patient with yourself

Don’t give yourself a grief schedule. There is no rush, and there is no time frame for grief. You have experienced a loss that is enormously painful, and it is normal to find yourself experiencing periods of deep sadness long after the loss. Allow yourself to cry or express frustration when you need to.

You will never stop missing your loved one. But over the course of time, you can find ways to enjoy life again. Remind yourself that time will make your situation more manageable. In the meantime, accept every emotion you feel, and understand that it is okay to be upset. Accept yourself in every situation, and strive not to compare your grief feelings to the grief feelings of others or set unrealistic expectations regarding how you feel. The grief journey is not linear, and even after you feel much better, you may experience occasional grief bursts. By allowing yourself to feel your emotions without judgment, you can make a great deal of progress on your grief journey.

Establish the legacy of your loved one

In the aftermath of suicide, find ways to remember the positive impact your loved one had on the lives of others. You may want to participate in certain rituals to honor their memory, such as attending a prayer vigil or gathering with loved ones to share your thoughts about the person you’ve lost. Through stories and memories, remind others of the meaningful life your loved one lived.

Do you remember your loved one helping others in a time of need? Or a time when he or she accomplished something extraordinary? Search for funny or happy memories with this person and share their story with others. If you feel comfortable, you may even start a blog, or find another way to write about what your loved one meant to you and those around you. The fact that the death hurts indicates that the one who has died brought joy to other people. Sharing the story of his or her life can be an important healing step on your grief journey.

“A Clear Midnight”

By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss

“A Clear Midnight”
  by Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the
themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

“Death, Be Not Proud”

By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss

Death, Be Not Proud”
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

“The Road Not Taken”

By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss

“The Road Not Taken”
by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.


By Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss

By Bessie Anderson Smith*

He has achieved success
who has lived well,
laughed often, and loved much;

who has enjoyed the trust of
pure women,

the respect of intelligent men and
the love of little children;

who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;

who has left the world better than he found it
whether by an improved poppy,
a perfect poem or a rescued soul;

who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty
or failed to express it;

who has always looked for the best in others and
given them the best he had;

whose life was an inspiration;
whose memory a benediction.



*This poem is often incorrectly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, usually with the inclusion of the famous line: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

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