Grief: Wrong Words at the Right Time?

I can’t believe you just said that!  We have all experienced grief, and in light of the national tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, I wanted to share a few thoughts from my life.  What to say and what NOT to say!

Whether it is the diagnosis of cancer, death of a loved one, loss of a job, or any other things which bring grief: We have to be prepared to deal with these things as they happen to us and to those we love.

We all want to make those around us feel better in times of trials, and because of this we often speak prior to thinking through what we are saying.  A few examples from events in my life are found below and hopefully they will be helpful to you.

1)      Mom’s fight with cancer – During mom’s final days with us was a grind, and each day her condition worsened.  As many visitors came by to see her, a few stick in my mind.

  1. The “HELPER” – This was a visitor who came and offered her advice to dad as to what he should do.  She told him, “Call in Hospice and get her home, so this process can be more peaceful.”  This is not a statement about the worth of hospice, because this service and those who provide it do amazing work.  The point here is that is a decision made for loved ones, by loved ones and shouldn’t be suggested by a family visitor at the hospital.
  2. The “SAINT” – How many of you know what your spiritual gifts are?  One visitor during mom’s stay was her choir director.  He had an amazing voice, and I will never forget him sitting down on the couch/bed next to her and began to sing…Amazing moment.  He knew his gift, and was not afraid to share it.

2)      Be present – Many times we are uncomfortable in situations and our response is to just stay away because we don’t know what to say.  Having the right words is not the most important part…but your presence is.  It’s ok to just sit alongside friends and family, while not saying anything.  Filling uncomfortable silence with drivel is usually the time when the wrong things are said at the wrong time.

3)      1-Up Theory – Have you ever been around people who want to share stories from their life, which are just a little bit worse than yours.  Please refrain from trying to 1-up people’s situations, especially during times of grief.  To empathize doesn’t mean to share more shocking stories.  It means to comfort them in a way you were comforted during a similar situation.

FEEDBACK: Do you have any stories of similar situations?  Please leave your comments which would help people do a better job in comforting those in grief. 


  1. My wife and I have never been able to get a pregnancy to term. It wasn’t the emotional roller coaster for me as much as it was for her… but the wrong comment at the wrong time can make it even worse.
    – If you ask a woman when she and her husband are going to have children and she says that their attempts have been unsuccessful just end the discussion with a graceful reply like “I’m sorry to hear that”, or “I’ll put you on my prayer list”, or “I’ll be thinking of you”. Don’t say things like “oh it’ll happen when the time is right”, or “If you’ll just stop worrying about it, it will happen”, or “once my sister’s uncle’s brother’s cousin couldn’t have a baby but once they adopted/gave up/sat on a cactus (you get the idea) they got pregnant!” Everyone knows that your words are meant with the best of intentions but… the last 50 people they had the same conversation with said the exact same thing… and it wasn’t helpful in the long run.

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