The older brother of good friend of mine recently passed away. He had been in the same school as my friend and I, so I knew him. It was shocking, and utterly unexpected. He was 27 years old, healthy, and in the prime of his life. He was simply found dead on the floor of his apartment. I think they said he suffered a freak attack of extreme heart trauma. He had been married for a year, and left behind a widow and a baby girl. After my friend flew to L.A. to be with his grieving family, I sent him this text message:

“Dearest Sam,
I just heard about your brother’s passing. I wanted to say I am so sorry for your loss. I froze when I was told- he was such a wonderful person. Even though I never studied or dormed with Mark, I considered him a great role model. He was serious and dedicated in both his studies and in his growth as a person, and was always a happy person to be around. His passing leaves the world a darker place.

I know that I do not appreciate the extent of the pain and grief that you and your loved ones must be feeling. Still, I want you to know that we are grieving with you. My heart weeps for you. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help you in any way. May G-d comfort all of you, as well as all of the other mourners. May your brother be a Heavenly advocate for his family.”

Sam thanked me for my words. Even now, I still feel a twinge of guilt- “I should have called him!”. Still, I am thankful that I was able to reach out to my friend in his time of sorrow.

I am sharing this letter in an attempt to assist people who are trying to console people. If you take a close look at the second paragraph, you will notice that some expressions that well-intentioned people often say to mourners are absent. Here are some examples:

“I know exactly how you (must) feel”. Unless you have gone through the same tragedy; the same shock and mind-numbing horror- you simply DO NOT. Do NOT say this. It comes off as arrogant, patronizing, and hurtful to the mourner. In reality, no, you don’t, you do NOT know how he/she feels.

Another one is: “G-d gives the hardest tests to the ones He loves the most”. While this is true- the finest steel DOES go through the hottest furnace, it is not your place to say something like this. It’s downright hurtful. The mourner will probably think, or even say, “**** the extra love, and give me my brother/husband, etc. back!” This comment is patronizing and cheap. While this expression is not NEARLY [not even a tenth] as bad, it reminds me of those Westboro Baptist creatures, who attend soldiers’ funerals, announcing, “The deceased died because of homosexuality”, “Thank G-d for IEDs”, etc. Basically, implying that YOU know why things happen both hurts the mourner, and makes you (look like) a pretentious imbecile.

The only way this comment should ever be used, is if you are the beloved and respected religious leader of the mourners, and even then, it needs to be said gently, or better yet, not at all- unless you KNOW that they will appreciate this sentiment. When people are trying to avoid drowning in grief, comments like this are akin to dunking their heads underwater.

One final no-no, is to tell a young woman who has lost her husband, “Don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll find someone else.” Honestly, that one is so awful, I can’t believe people say it.

In conclusion, a good rule of thumb is: Just BE there for your friend. If you’re unsure what to say, then shut up, and LISTEN to them! Even if they don’t talk, just be there, say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” And just stay there, showing your empathy. I’m sorry if there is an undercurrent of anger in this letter, it just really angers me when people carelessly inflict wounds on those who are already fighting to survive.
lifeisatest lifeisatest
26-30, M
2 Responses Aug 20, 2014

Thank you so much, this needed to be said! When it happened to me I could not fathom the cruelty of others. In my grief I wondered if they were purposely trying to hurt me. I have yet to shake off those words.

You are very welcome! Thank you for your kind words. It is truly frightening how much damage one carelessly uttered phrase can inflict.

Very well written, and absolutely correct!

Thank you so much! I composed this piece yesterday, and I really poured my heart out.

You did an incredible job. I sincerely mean that. What you have brought forth is information that each and every single person needs to know and remember. We will all face a death at some time in our lives, and we are well meaning yet we cause the most pain. This is also true when I deal with victims of trauma. I cannot say "I know how you feel" unless my *** walked in her/his shoes. I still don't say it, as their level of pain and trauma may differ from mine.

I completely agree! Sometimes, in our rush to help, we cause tremendous harm. Thanks for all of your wise words and compliments!