What they Meant to Say

When people are grieving, they often lash out in anger, or say words they meant to be comforting but actually come off hurtful. This post poses possible phrases that may have triggered a negative reaction for you upon hearing it, and what they meant to say instead.  

“Luckily, they lived a long and full life.”

This can strike a dissonant chord in our hearts after a loved one dies. Something about the idea of being lucky when you’re actually distraught. There’s a bit of connotation that you should be grateful and not grieving, and worse, there are undertones of “the deceased did everything they were going to do, so it’s okay they died.” These painful interpretations are common and understandable. But let’s take a step back and rethink what they meant to say. This person is trying to be supportive and hopeful. They are attempting to pay their respects by honoring the deceased’s life and focusing on what they’ve done.

“I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Yeesh, this little condolence can be a doozy. Our prickly reaction can be an immediate spark of fury and anger as we think they could not possibly understand what you are feeling, no one can. It’s a presumption that minimizes your pain. But, what they meant to say, is that they have empathy for you, they have felt pain before and made it through to the other side, and they believe you can do the same. It’s an attempt at putting themselves on your level to hold your hand in the darkness.

“I just can’t be here right now.”

This comment encapsulates a variety of phrases that basically excuse them from helping with the planning, preparation, or being present at the actual service. This can be immensely frustrating because it seems selfish and weak, usually from someone you really wish you could lean on for support. Let’s think about what they meant to say. They are not trying to be selfish, but it’s possible they are uncomfortable with grief and unable to cope with their emotions multiplied by those of other people. Is it fair to you to make up the difference? No, it is not fair. But there’s also no use being offended, either.

“Be strong, be brave.”

Your immediate reaction might be bitter, defensive, because this statement insinuates that you are not being strong or brave even though you got out of bed this morning and put on matching shoes. It insinuates that you have total control over the situation, and that “being strong” will fix everything. It insinuates that strength is the cure for grief, when we know that grieving requires great strength, and the two go hand in hand. What they meant to say is that they support you as you get through this dark time. They have confidence in your strength and they know it will get you through the grief eventually. They meant to compliment and support you, not tear down your self-esteem.

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