Avoiding the Clichés of Grief

by Sasha J. Mudlaff, M.A.

“I know just how you feel.”
Possible Alternative
If you have had a similar loss, you can give tremendous support to the grieving person, but don’t suggest that you know exactly what they’re going through.

“Time will heal.”
Possible Alternative
Moldy oldie! To the bereaved, each day can seem like an eternity. Besides, how do you know that “time will heal” them? Time alone doesn’t heal, but what one does with their time can help the healing process.
Alternative – “You must feel as if this pain will never end…”

“Life goes on.”
Possible Alternative
“Life has dealt you a terrible blow. I know it will be hard for you in the months to come to live with this pain.”

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“You must be strong for your….” “You’re the (wo)man of the house now.” “You’re being so strong/brave”
Possible Alternative
These types of “Be Strong” statements can be interpreted to say “Don’t cry in front of me!” Children and teens can take statements like these literally, which may cause them to repress their grief feelings. Alternatives – “Make sure you’re taking care of you…I can’t imagine how hard this must be.”

“You’ve got to get a hold of yourself.”
Possible Alternative
To onlookers, some grief behavior seems very strange, but we must remember that each person is different and will handle grief in their own way. What works for one may not work for another. Support their need to cope with their grief, and don’t be judgmental about how they choose to do it.

“You’re holding up so well.”
Possible Alternative
Avoid statements that encourage keeping feelings inside — this takes more energy than expressing one’s feelings. “Let your feelings out”, “Don’t feel you have to be strong for/in front of me,” are possible alternatives.

“You’re not your old self.”
Possible Alternative
Remember that one is never the same after experiencing the death of a loved one.

“I just don’t understand your behavior.”
Possible Alternative
“I know you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.”

“You should be over this by now.”
Possible Alternative
“Get On With Life” clichés tell the grieving person that “We’re tired of hearing this!” The time it takes for one to work through his or her grief is highly individual. There is no set time in which one should “get over it.” Alternative – “I know it will take a long time for you to feel better, and I want to help you as much as I can. Teach me how.”

“No sense in dwelling in the past.”
Possible Alternative
It is important for a bereaved person to nurture memories of the loved one. We cope with loss by allowing the memories to live on.

“If I were you, I would do it this way…”
Possible Alternative
“I cannot tell you what to do because I am not you, and I don’t know exactly what you’re going through.” “I’ve had a similar experience, so I have an idea of what you must feel. What I learned/helped me is….”

“It’s a blessing.” or “God needs him/her more than you do.” or “It was God’s will.”
Possible Alternative
These types of statements, although good in intention, do not help the one who’s grieving to feel any better. In fact, it may prompt the person to feel guilty about their grief feelings.

“If there is anything I can do, just call me.”
Possible Alternative
The grieving person probably will not call you. You must take the initiative and be specific so that they know your offer is genuine and not cliché!