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What NOT to say to a Grieving Friend-by Heidi McLaughlin

Posted: July 7, 2019

I’ve earned the “School of Hard Knocks” degree of being a Grief Expert through no choice of my own. After being widowed twice, losing my dad through ALS, my mother through myelodysplasia plus a myriad of other loses; I’ve heard every encouraging, and not so, encouraging word. After reading that wonderful article by Celeste Headlee in her Huffpost article, I wanted to add a few of my personal favourites.

Please don’t berate yourself if you find your words in any of the following scripts. Grief is the most painful feeling we encounter while we walk this earth.  It’s outrageously personal. It’s love with no place to go. It’s awkward. It’s the walking wounded and nothing you say is right or wrong or will make it better. I love it when people try to say something, instead of not making eye contact or walking away.  I’ve been one of the fortunate people who have been showered with love, prayed for and embraced with support.  Because of what I’ve been through, many people ask me: “Heidi, what is the right thing to say and do when someone is grieving?”

First, let’s start with a few of my “non-favourites.”

Well, you look better than you did two weeks ago. Wow, I must have looked really bad.

I guess you have to sleep by yourself now. You guessed that right.

Cheerfully quoted by several people Easter Sunday months after Jack’s death. “Jack is celebrating and dancing with Jesus now.” I wish he were dancing with me right now.

You had 21 years together. And it wasn’t long enough.

You’ll be with him again someday. I wish someday was right now.

They’re in a good and happy place.That is the right Christian thing to say but it doesn’t make me feel any better. He was in a good place with me living life to the full.

I know how you feel. You have NO idea.

Are you going to get married again? Jack is not replaceable.

This will really enhance your speaking ministry. No words.

Everything happens for a reason and it will work out for good. I know, I know but I don’t want to hear that right now.

You’ll be with him soon. Soon is not soon enough.

Jesus needed him. I need him.

Many of these are also on Google and the least favourite for Google and me (It’s the top 10) is:  “Call me if there is anything you need.” It seems like the good and right thing to say and we all know you mean well. Unless you’ve been through it you wouldn’t know that for a grieving person hardly able to get out of bed in the morning, these offers are overwhelming and it puts the responsibility back on the bereaved person. Someone deep in grief cannot handle something more they need to do. A disclaimer to close family and friends that offer their help, we know who will follow up and show up.

So what do you say and do?

Keep it really simple.

  • Make eye contact.
  • A smile and a hug.
  • Tell the grieving person: “I’m truly sorry that you’re going through this pain.”
  • Show up and sit with them.
  •  Send a card.
  • Tell the person you’re praying for them.
  • Don’t try to make it better by over-spiritualizing it.
  • It’s OK to make them laugh.  (Everyone else is afraid to do it)
  • Share a simple memory.  (We all miss_____he/she was so kind to me).
  • It’s overstated but it’s true; bring a casserole or a meal. A person in grief does not have the energy to cook.
  • Invite the grieving person out. Not only do they need to get out of the house, they need to know they still belong and there is a world for them out there.
  • Be sincere and real.
  • Love covers a multitude of errors. We’re all on a complicated journey; let’s do this together.


Bear in mind that grief does not go away or “get better” after six months, a year or even years. Grief lives with us for the rest of our lives and we have to learn to move forward into a new normal. It takes adjustments, and it takes time. Be the person that understands because we never know when it’s our turn.





Posted in: alone, Christ, cry, death, Encouragement, friends, God's love, grief, Heavenly Father, honesty, joy, Kindness, laugh, listen, love never fails, pain, pray, relationships, smile, suffering

16 responses to “What NOT to say to a Grieving Friend-by Heidi McLaughlin”

  1. Pamela Schulz says:

    As a widow myself (5 years), I can say yes, yes and yes! One of the saddest things for me, was that friends & family were afraid to talk about my late husband around me. I craved to hear their thoughts and experiences with him, but it seemed as if he was suddenly forgotten by everyone!

    I would add to this list, do not be afraid of tears from a grieving person. Those tears are healing and natural and shouldn’t be held back. Don’t even offer a tissue, that in itself can be a signal to stop the tears. Just listen, hold a hand and love on the griever.

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and comments. Being a widow is not easy and the grief feels very alone at times. I also love it when people still talk about Jack. Is it OK for you to bring up his name once in a while in a conversation with close friends? I think people assume you’re “getting on with life” and don’t want to make you sad again. Some people actually don’t want to talk about their deceased loved ones, for some it’s painful, for some it’s healing and encouraging.It’s such a personal journey. And yes the tears…oh let them flow. It’s so necessary and healing. Thank you for sharing your heart and your tears with me.Wish I could give you a hug…Blessings Heidi

  2. Erin Ouyang says:

    Thanks for sharing. It is really helpful.

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog. May my nuggets of experience and wisdom help you for the future.
      Blessings, Heidi

  3. Lisa Chambers says:

    Oh Heidi, I have wanted and needed to know what the right thing to do and say is for a grieving person. I really appreciate your heart and the honest truth of what you need when you are grieving. I haven’t had very much experience in this area. Thank you again my friend. ❤️
    Love, Lisa

    • hmclaughlin says:

      My dear Lisa, grief is such a personal journey and we all need to learn from each other. There is no “right template” for helping someone in deep grief. Just be there, hug and love. And that’s what you do SO BEAUTIFULLY.
      Hugs, Heidi

  4. Verna says:

    Thank you for this timely and thoughtful exposé. We walk alongside a family this week who grieve stillborn twin boys. So much pain for them. Driving 26 hours there and back is such a small price for us. We are so grateful to set aside our stuff to be with them.

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Oh Verna you are doing just the right thing..”showing up.” When Jack died people flew in from different parts of the country and drove hours to be here for the funeral. There is no greater gift or expression of love. I know God will give you the right words when you get there. God be with you.

  5. Donna Elliott says:

    Heidi, you continue to bless me over and over again. We just did the Memorial Service for our son, David, on July 6th. Your vulnerability, honesty, compassion and wisdom are just what I needed right now. Our son, David is no longer dealing with anxiety, depression, alcohol related neuropathy and other health issues related to alcohol abuse….for this we are thankful. At the same time, we miss his laugh, his hugs, family BBQ prep time conversations, sharing memories of adventures with his dad and sisters, his goofiness and compassion for those who are struggling…he was such an Encourager. Thanks for this posting, Heidi!

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Dear Donna, how brave of you to read my blog and then write these wonderful words. I am so sad that you have to go through this heart wrenching journey. Losing your son, I can’t even imagine. Our sons who have our hearts the minute they are born. Be prepared, the next time I run into you wherever you are…You will get a big squeeze and hug. Praying for you right now even as I write this. Hugs, Heidi

  6. Sheila Brown says:

    Hello my friend – thank you – it’s so true that people want to know the right things to do/say – so glad I can share this – sadly too many have to go thru the grieving process – when my one friend asked me how she should treat the widow/widowers in her church all I could think of was treat them the same as you always did – that’s all I ever wanted people to do for me – I haven’t changed – just my circumstances have ☹️

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Dear Sheila, these are such good words…”treat me the way you always did.” Yes, that is what I want as well. Sometimes it feel like widows are an oddity and people don’t know what to do with us. We didn’t ask for this, and now we have to live it. I however am very, very blessed with so many loving, generous and kind people around me that have helped me to walk this hard journey. But then you know, there are those…. I know they can’t help it because they don’t know what to do. It’s so refreshing to be able to talk about it. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and comments. I remember our wonderful time together. Hugs from Kelowna.

  7. Deb Hurdle says:

    I am the grieving widow at this moment in time. I appreciated your blog. It will help me be understanding when they say (silly) things to me. When I was on the “other side” I obviously could not understand how the grieving person felt, so I didn’t try to hide that. Now, on “this side” of grieving, I just can’t believe how MUCH I didn’t understand. So I will give those people some slack:-)

    • hmclaughlin says:

      Deb, thank you so much for giving the readers a real glimpse into both sides. I hope many people read your words, they are “spot on.” All of us have so much to learn, and mostly we just learn through pain. My most sincere condolences for the pain you’re going through in your journey of grief. My heart goes out to you.

  8. Hilda says:

    Heidi, I liked your phrase “new normal” – I often answered inquiries about how I was doing with the phrase “I’m redefining normal.”

    • hmclaughlin says:

      It’s so true isn’t it? The normal we knew is gone, and we have to figure out the “new.” It takes time, pain and lots of praying.
      Blessings, Heidi

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