I'll never forget the night I lost my dad. It was a couple weeks before Christmas—the tree was decorated, the lights were draped over kitchen cupboards, and a stocking hung by his bed.
As soon as he breathed his last breath, I felt a pain, an emptiness even, that I had never felt before. The conversation around me from relatives and friends who had gathered to say their goodbyes was muffled and unimportant, the air felt thick and hard to breathe in. Inside I screamed piercingly loud with sobs and choked cries; although, to everyone else, I was silent. Barely even crying. It was the beginning of a long journey of grief that you may know about as well.
This journey shouldn't be taken alone. But there are certain things that people say to you during times of grief, usually with good intentions, that can actually make the process especially difficult.
Here are 7 things to never say to someone who has just lost a loved one
1. "He/She is in a better place."
To the person grieving, that isn't comforting. Despite their religious beliefs, the better place right now in his or her opinion is where they can hug their dad again, or chat with their best friend again.
During the grieving process, reminding the one grieving about the afterlife is actually sending a message that it's better that the person is gone. That it outweighs the pain and the loss.
2. "Time heals all wounds."
Here's the thing: it doesn't. Time changes the wounds, strengthens the heart, and makes the days go by a little bit easier. But the loss that this person has suffered will never completely heal because of time. There will always be scars, and making a person feel like that pain will all go away and that this is just a "stage" is unfair.
3. "God just wanted another angel."
We've all heard the phrase "The good die young." But when it's said to someone grieving a loss, it is really hard to hear. No one wants to think of a loving God as someone who snatches away the ones we love simply because he wants another angel.
After my dad died it was comforting to hear people talk about the fact that my dad will still visit me, or that he's doing great work where he's at, but never comforting to hear that God just wanted him there instead of with me.
Even if you lost a child and are comforting someone who lost their child as well, telling someone that you know exactly how it is and how the process will be is not the same. It would be like writing to someone in New York, when you live in North Dakota, and telling them you know exactly how it is to live in America.
5. "At least it was quick/At least you had time to say goodbye."
My family heard this one a lot because from the time my dad was diagnosed, to the time he died, it was almost exactly a year. To everyone around us that was a "blessing," because we got the time to prepare and make memories and say goodbye.
In a way I agree; I'm glad I got that time with my dad, but there were days when I felt completely opposite.
Why did I have to witness my dad struggling to breathe? Why did it have to be so slow? For someone who lost a loved one in an accident, their cries may be, "Why didn't I get to hug them one last time?" or "I wonder if they suffered?"
No matter how you lose someone, it doesn't get around the fact that at the end of the day, you lost something. And it hurts.
6. "I'm glad his/her suffering is over."
So are they. The family, the friends, the loved ones are relieved in some way, deep in their hearts, that the pain is gone. But as soon as that suffering ended, their own suffering began in a wave of grief and loneliness and despair. They are probably just as relieved as you are that the one they love is at peace, but since they are in such a dark place, they don't need to be reminded that it's all over.
7. "There is a reason for everything."
God certainly makes beauty out of ashes, and anyone who has lost anything in life can attest to that beautiful truth. But sometimes the most painful experiences feel utterly senseless, and the journey feels long and unending to those who are right smack in the middle of it all.
Although your perspective may be positive and enlightened, their perspective is not. It's best to be with them in the moment and love them through it rather than to remind them that there's a reason this terrible tragedy has happened.
We will all encounter loss at one time or another, and we'll all have times when we're on the other end, giving the long hugs of comfort, and sitting in the sad silences. Just remember that as a friend, and a loved one, your sensitivity, your words, and sometimes even your silent presence, will be the very thing that gets someone through the worst day of their life.