When a staff member is bereaved

What not to say to someone who is grieving:

  • “I know how you feel” – no you don’t. Even if you had been in exactly the same situation, you might have experienced it differently. You have no idea how they feel. Instead you could ask “How do you feel?” and just listen.

  • “At least…” if you’re about to begin a sentence with those two words, stop it now. It is never helpful. Trying to somehow make the situation seem not as bad as it is, or trying to reframe their experience as something more positive can leave someone feeling like their pain doesn’t matter, that they are not being heard and that the significance of their loss is being dismissed. In fact, it can feel quite devastating.

  • “When my cat died…” It’s understandable to try and make a connection to their experience by sharing some of your own losses, but any kinds of comparisons can feel once again dismissive of the uniqueness of what they are carrying at this time. Relating to their feelings can be more helpful than trying to make comparisons to particular situations, and of course it goes without saying that any attempts to ‘outdo’ each other’s grief are deeply unhelpful.

  • Any phrases like “time heals all wounds”, “you’ll move on”, “It takes one month for every year you knew them” are NO GOES. If you are not sure why, perhaps have another look over the grief theories we have shared in an earlier section.

  • Do not use this time to project your own beliefs onto someone else about where their loved one may be and how they may be looking down on us all. Don’t speak on behalf of the person who is grieving – allow them to make sense of it in their own way.