When Tragedy Strikes: Words to Say and Not to Say to The Bereaved

Photo credit: VeryWell 5 February 08, 2017 By Dang

When tragedy strikes a loved one, often out of fear of saying the wrong things, we stay away from saying or doing anything. When my mum died, I knew there was nothing anyone could tell me that would console me. Words were mere words.Some people made it worse by coming to the house and screaming from the gate. When they got into the living room, they’d roll on the floor and make a scene. For someone who just suffered a loss, my siblings and I were pretty irritated

Some of my closest friends and family also had a hard time finding words of comfort, or even knowing what to say. I knew then, no matter how you love someone or how close you are to them, heartfelt, genuine condolence messages aren’t simple to express. Some of their response to my mum’s death were awkward or even non-existent. However, I saw that they had so much love and compassion in their hearts than they were able to express

The following were the things I needed to hear/not hear, see or feel at that time

* Don’t ask a bereaved, “how did she die’?: When I was asked this question, In my mind I say “Eeez like something is wrong with you” but outwardly I just smile. Really what does it matter to you how she died? She is gone!!!! I saw this as insensitive but looking back I see that this is also because some people didn’t know what to say

* “What do you need me to do?”: My siblings and I had so much to do but at the early stages, were too numb to take any step. The truth is it is very hard to ask for support when one is grieving but If someone had asked me what I needed done, I would have delegated some impersonal chores or errands. My siblings and I didn’t want to impose on anyone so we did most things ourselves since most people really didn’t know what to say

* Take heart: A friend called a day after mum died and said “ I am here in spirit with you. I don’t know what to say but remember to grieve without holding yourself back. I feel for you but I cannot imagine what you’re going through”. I remember what she said because she went straight to the point and was sincere. However, she didn’t say “Take heart”. Those words, for someone who has just been bereaved just doesn’t seem right

* What most people don’t realize unless they have lost someone is how incredibly isolating the grieving process is. I liked the fact that some of my friends would come, sit with me and hold my hands. It was comforting. Some times everyone sat in silence but as the days passed by, they also told jokes about my mum that cracked me up

* When people arrive at the house without drama, offered their condolence and talked about how my mum had a positive impact in their lives, this made us really happy

* I also appreciated people who listened with compassion when I talked about my mum. Those who didnt try to cut me off with “don’t worry she is in a better place now”. I know she is in a better place, can I rant in peace?

Most importantly, know that people will most likely not remember what you said when they were bereaved. They will remember what you did and that you showed up. As awkward as it may seem, lets try to show genuine compassion, offer sincere help and not be incentive with our words.

If you have some tips to share from your experience please put them directly in the comments below.


5 comments on “When Tragedy Strikes: Words to Say and Not to Say to The Bereaved

  1. Bankole

    Hi doang, thanks for writing something I can personally relate to/with. Lost my mum late last year, and then my dad about 3 weeks ago, (the funeral was on the 2nd of February). People dont know how these questions feel to us, and its hard to explain. *sigh* ?


    1. Femi

      So sorry to hear this… It is quite tough dealing with bereavement. I lost my dad 10 years ago and to be honest, I couldn’t bring myself to cry… the pain was so deep that tears just seemed inadequate. My sister passed on 5 years later in rather shocking circumstances and the anger and resentment I felt stayed with me for months. I said very little but the hurt and anger just stayed like a cloud. It was tough. Very tough.


  2. Medina

    What i still find most annoying is people telling me.. welcome to the club, I lost my dad too. Like dude I don’t wanna hear that right now..


  3. Anonymous

    This was timely. A dear friend lost his wife last week, I’ve not been able to call till now cos we’re in different towns. I don’t know what to say, I’m at a complete loss. This article has somehow given me a push now that I know what not to say. Thanks.



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