Liz Curtis Higgs // incourage.me

My best friend goes to weddings the way some people go to movies. She attended eight last year, with seven more on this year’s calendar.

I know, right? Fifteen weddings. All I can say is, everybody loves her, and her handsome sons make great groomsmen.

Me? I’ve been spending more time at funerals lately. Close family, close friends. Not nearly as joy-filled as a wedding, even when we know the one we’ve lost will live happily ever after in heaven.

The truth is, saying good-bye is hard.

And saying anything at a funeral is difficult. Time and again I’ve stood in line at a funeral home, waiting to speak with the family, trying to think of something encouraging or helpful to say.

Then, when it’s my turn, I blurt out some Christian cliché that’s thoughtless, heartless, or just plain foolish.

The good news? I’ve made a complete idiot of myself, so you won’t have to.

Here are ten things not to say the next time you attend a funeral or send a sympathy card. Trust me, you’ll thank me for this.

  1. “I know how you feel.”
    We have no idea how other people feel, especially when they’re grieving. Even if you, too, have lost your grandmother, resist the urge to mention it. Focus on their loss, not yours.
  2. “Everything happens for a reason.”
    This is absolutely true, but it’s a reason the Lord alone knows. Don’t go there. When the survivors are ready to see a bigger picture, He will show them.
  3. “It was his/her time.”
    Clearly so. No need to point it out.
  4. “At least you had ___ good years together.”
    A reminder of what they’ve lost does nothing to ease their pain.
  5. “You must be glad his/her suffering is over.”
    Maybe, but if they were praying for healing or recovery, this is not the outcome they were hoping for, and glad is the last thing they’re feeling.
  6. “You’re still young. You can remarry/have another child.”
    I’m grateful I’ve never said this. But I’ve thought it, and that’s bad enough.
  7. “It’s for the best.”
    For the deceased, maybe. But not for the people we’re trying to comfort.
  8. “He/she is in a better place.”
    If the loved one was a child of God who stepped into the next world when he or she left this one, they assuredly are in a better place. But when we miss someone we love, we want them right here with us.
  9. “He/she looks so natural.”
    Compared to . . . ?
  10. “If there’s anything I can do, just call.”
    This sounds caring and sincere, and no doubt is. But a grieving person often doesn’t want to burden friends or ask for help. So, we need to call them, figure out what’s needed, and make it happen.
Shaded Garden Path

This brings us to our happier ending.

Ten things that are good to say and do. 

  1. “I love you.”
    Short, simple, profound. We can never say — or hear — it often enough.
  2. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
    This is the heartbeat of sympathy: shared sorrow.
  3. “I’ll be praying for you.”
    Even better, be specific: “I’ll pray for you every morning at nine on my way to work.” Not only will your promise comfort them each morning, it also opens a door for you to call and check on them: “What can I be praying about this week?”
  4. “Here’s something I really appreciated about your loved one.”
    If you have a brief story or memory to add to their collection, they’ll be grateful to hear your words and will cherish them for years to come.
  5. Show up. Be there. Visit.
    At the viewing. At the funeral. At their door, if and when it’s appropriate. Flowers are nice, but hugs are better.
  6. Weep with those who weep {Romans 12:15}.
    Not everyone has a ministry of tears, but if you do, bring tissues.
  7. Listen.
    Save your questions and suggestions for another time. Concentrate on making eye contact and nodding.
  8. Provide food.
    Bring a meal. Do their grocery shopping. When they’re ready, take them to a restaurant. People in mourning may forget to eat. Help them remember.
  9. Keep in touch.
    Send a sympathy card or note a month later, when their mailbox is empty.
  10. Include them in your life.
    Invite them over to watch a movie or play board games or bake cookies or whatever’s happening at your house. The less fuss, the better. Think family, not company.

The day will come when your friends will be ready to put aside their heartache and rejoin the land of the living. If you’ve walked that hard road with them, then you’ve lived out His truth: “A friend loves at all times” {Proverbs 17:17}.

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Here are ten grace-filled things to say and do for a friend who is grieving. {Tweet this!}

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  • http://www.marybonner.net/ Mary Bonner

    Having stood in both lines – I get this and your suggestions are spot on. As a mother who has buried a child, I know it is comforting people don’t forget. I almost always send my sympathy cards 3 weeks or so after the death and often send one the next year. Just this week I sent a card to a neighbor who lost their son 4 years ago. She stopped me yesterday morning to tell me thank you and how much she appreciated it.

    And the line about you can always remarry/have another child…really? People say that ALL THE TIME. It is NOT helpful. I even had someone tell me well, at least you only had her for a few days, you didn’t get attached her. Seriously! That happened! Forget that I carried her for 9 months and dreamed of her for years.

    Oh, well…Liz, thank you for a lovely and insightful post!

    • http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com Liz Curtis Higgs

      Thanks so much for sharing, Mary. I’m not only sorry for your loss; I’m sorry for the hurtful comments people made in a feeble attempt to be helpful. Father God, help us think before we speak and weigh our words with care!

    • Trisha

      I Miscarried a child at 12 weeks and heard, “well at least you still have 3 healthy children”. Really, as if the one I miscarried didn’t matter.

      • http://www.marybonner.net/ Mary Bonner

        I heard similar things, Trisha. Like one child can replace another! I know those words hurt. One thing I have found in my journey is that I am empathy and understanding for those experiencing loss that I would not otherwise have had.

    • Mayra

      I lost a two months old child to SYDS (sudden infant death) and I heard lines such as, “at least you have two more children left”, “thankfully your husband wasn’t travelling or else he would have been very upset with you”, “you can’t have anymore children and your husband would like to have more now”…..and then, there was this friend who sat by my side and held my hand, never said a single word, just silently held my hand at the funeral home, I will never ever forget how that made me feel.

      • http://www.marybonner.net/ Mary Bonner

        I am so sorry for your loss. How wonderful someone was there to hold your hand…we never forgot those that hold our hands, our hearts and say nothing. Praying for you this morning.

      • Beth Williams

        Mayra,
        So sorry for the loss your child! I am thankful God sent a friend to you to sit with you quietly! Prayer that God will continue to shower you with peace and contentment in your mind, body and soul!
        Blessings :)

    • Beth Williams

      Mary,
      So so sorry for the rude, insensitive comments made by others. First off yes you may have other children, but it doesn’t diminish the feeling of loss! People who say that have never lost a young child. They can’t or don’t want to understand! I pray God will continue to shower you with peace and contentment in you heart, mind and soul!

      Blessings :)

      • http://www.marybonner.net/ Mary Bonner

        Thank you, Beth.

  • http://www.simplyoneinmarriage.com/ Sabra Penley

    Oh Liz, thank you for this! First for what not to say…as that’s usually the first thing that comes off my tongue. And then for what to say. Wise words, sweet friend. This one goes in my “Best Advice for Living Life Right” file. Blessings to you!

    • http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com Liz Curtis Higgs

      So glad it was helpful, Sabra. Believe me, I’ve said all those things too! Much joy to you.

  • Kristen Munson

    This is so great! I hate the christian cliches people use. I try to be as honest as possible, if I say anything at all, by acknowledging that the situation just plain ole sucks and I’m there for them.

    • http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com Liz Curtis Higgs

      You are so wise, Kristen. Honesty is definitely the way to go!

  • http://www.whatithinktoday.blogspot.com/ Ms. Witi

    I too have been to more funerals lately than weddings. It’s weird how I feel I am at another “stage in life” I guess. Nice reminders to once again BE PRESENT with those either in times of up or down.

    • http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com Liz Curtis Higgs

      A good word, sister: Be present. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15

  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Liz,
    I try to take my cues from Jesus. When He approached Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. Jesus actually said nothing…instead He simply wept with them. What greater gift than to be able to grieve with someone and just for a moment set our selfish agenda aside and just be there for them. Sometimes the less said the better. But if you’re going to say something the list you pointed out is excellent!! Less cliché and more caring!! Thank you for a much needed post!
    Blessings,
    Bev
    ps. I’m recuperating from extensive knee surgery and have your new book at my side…can’t wait to dig in!!

  • Kristine Brown MTY

    Beautiful advice Liz:) I’m right there with ya, sweet lady. We went through a difficult season recently, 5 funerals in 6 months. I appreciate your advice here. It shows genuine, honest concern that we all feel and simply don’t know how to express during times of loss. Thanks for sharing!

  • karen

    This was a great reminder as I too have learned some of these the hard way.

    Another GREAT suggestion someone gave me to help those who are grieving….drop a supply of paper goods off on their porch along with a note (paper towels, toilet paper, paper plates…) There will be visitors in and out and yet no one wants to run to the store for these very necessary items!

  • Velta

    Thank you for the encouragement and for sharing these thoughtful ways to support and love those folks God places in our paths. I think we all struggle with voicing our heart’s concerns; these will definitely help keep us on track.

  • Susie Longbottom

    Excellent advice all the way around.

  • Adiciple

    Oooh!!! This was wonderful!! My husband was killed in an accident when I was 42, left with three children!! I heard many of these sayings and thought I’d scream!!! The one I’d like to hone in on is “to be the there, include them, help them!!”
    I heard ” if there’s anything I can do a hundred times!!!!” But no one showed up to help mow my lawn, replace a fixture in the kitchen or bring a meal 6 months after the fact when I desperately needed a friend!!! Isolated as a young widow, lonely and often a third wheel!! Brutal!! I am reposting this!! Thank you!! ❤️

    • Linds

      Oh, I know what you mean too. So many words, but no practical help, when my husband died. And the church doesn’t seem to think about widows much any more either. In fact, someone said, quite recently, that she and others used to wonder how I was keeping afloat when he died. They never asked. And one thing I was warned about, yet thought would never happen, was the way I became isolated – left out. Invitations dried up. Friends went away on trips. Pairs work. Singles? No. So sad. Society needs to relearn compassion. Hugs from someone who really DOES know what you are feeling.

    • Ginger J Armstrong

      My husband died suddenly when I was 37. I still had 2 kids at home, a 7-year old and a college student. I so, so experienced the same thing. How do we change this? I feel like we are ill equipped to handle loss as a community although all of us go through it at one time or another. So sorry for your loss and your experience. XO

  • Jill Beran

    Oh Liz, I read this and can hear you saying each one. Two days after returning home from She Speaks our 20 year old fun, loving, full of life niece Grace was killed in a bike/car accident. It has been hard – I’ve done some of the things on both of your lists and have had others say them to me too. Thank you for this.

  • karen

    Thanks Liz! Great info for all of us. We lost our son very unexpectedly last year. We were blessed beyond measure by family and friends who did many of the things on your “do” list. I REALLY loved and treasure the memories of our son that people shared ( your #4 suggestion) in their cards, at the service, over the phone, and still today when I run into someone (not literally!) when I’m out. I also am guilty of being fearful of bringing up the memory of a lost loved one, but in reality, it’s nice to know they are not forgotten!

  • Joanne Peterson

    Hi Liz,

    This is such a good list! Liz you have such good insight to human nature. Grieving is hard, and messy, and awkward.

    I would like to add if the person who is a friend of a family member who isn’t known, please introduce themselves and how they came such as ‘I am a friend of your father from work, and my name is……..When my dad passed away, I found this so helpful. There were a lot of people who friends of my dad and I had heard their name with his stories of work, deer hunting, fishing, gun safety class, etc. and I had never met them until now. It meant a lot to be able to put a name to a face. of someone who had been a part of my dad’s life and who thought enough of him to come to his wake and or his funeral.

    Blessings,

    Joanne

    • amy

      my favorite is the “invite them to play games, bake cookies, or do whatever is happening at your house” while grieving it is so hard to get back to the ‘regular life’ stuff, but it feels so good to do those things with people who love and care about you.

  • Stacie Dent McGahee

    Sometimes a deep, meaningful embrace is all I can muster without breaking down myself. Words aren’t always necessary to convey your feelings.

  • Marbara Stivers

    Last week at this time I was at my father-in-law’s funeral listening to my husband read a story he had written about his dad. It was a sweet time and a joyful service…but it still hurts that Pop is gone. I am thankful for friends who know how to love well! May I follow their example and your suggestions :)

  • DianaLeaghMatthews

    Thank you for sharing these Liz! I just said one of those “not to say” earlier this morning. I wish I’d read your article before I opened my mouth. I appreciate that you also included what to say. I will print these out and keep them for a reminder. Beautifully written, Liz!

  • http://www.Trueandfaithful.net Lisa Appelo @True and Faithful

    Yes and amen to all that you’ve written. When my dh died, I was amazed at those so much wiser than I would have been, who simply hugged me and said, “I love you.” And I ate up stories and special memories they wrote or told me. But there is grace because even insensitive words are usually spoken from a of lack of experience, not lack of compassion.

  • Robin

    These are so spot on! Our daughter was killed in a car accident. She was 16. My father passed of cancer and our 4 grandchild was born sleeping. My mother in law and brother in law have passed and a super close friend lost her son at the age of 31. We have heard all of these phrases numerous times and they still sound unhelpful! Your suggestions are super. Some I have already done but some were new and I will be using them now also. Thank you for the help. Take care.

  • Judy Turnbull

    Thanks so much for your post. I have found myself saying the “wrong” things at different times even when I knew better. I’ve listened to myself in horror as I’ve heard something slip out of my mouth and I desperately want to take it back. It’s so easy to not think before we speak. It’s a reminder to really guard our words and think so that we can speak words of comfort rather then hurt.

  • Gretchen Hall Mercer

    This is really helpful! Even at 66, at times I need to be reminded. One of my close friends whose parents were missionaries had a stillborn baby. She told me her parents’ minister friends had some of the worst things to say to her! So…education, religion…so not necessarily qualify us at times like these. Thank you!

  • Judy Davis

    I love all of these. I’d like to keep them handy for the right occasion, as each occasion is different. However, I wasn’t offended when friends said my mother look “natural.” When you’ve watched a loved one deteriorate, it’s pure joy to see that old smile on their face in death. Fortunately or unfortunately (whichever the case may be) that’s a vision you carry for many years or forever.

  • http://emmadunnam.blogspot.com/ Christy

    Spot on, my friend! Exactly right. Thank you. ❤️

  • Linda Wing

    When my mom died I had 4 young children , the youngest just 6 weeks old. I heard so many times that she was in a better place that I wanted to scream . But the other side of the situation was when a group of friends from church took my kids for a day and brought dinner . That was a gift I will never forget .

  • Michele Williams-Massey

    I’ve been there, too, on both sides of the issue: the one saying something stupid and the one hearing it. I do try to remember that they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t care, and I try to see past their insensitive words to the words they don’t even know how to speak. Grace goes a long ways when you know people really do mean well.

  • Monica Sharman

    Thanks, Liz, for giving us *both* of these lists. Since I read this post, I’ve been wondering if “Were you close?” (which especially seems to be common if the deceased was a person’s mother or father) should be on the “what not to say” list because:
    1. What does it mean, anyway? What do they mean by “close”?
    2. What if the answer is “no”? Does that make the person feel worse? Regretful? Defensive? Guilty?

  • Beth Williams

    Liz,
    Great writing as usual! Love your suggestions! Our small church always provides food for families who have lost loved ones. We just want the family to know we care! I must admit I have said “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”. I will always try to ask people how they are doing & send a card or two. I don’t care if you lost a pet, elderly parent, etc. the loss still hurts just the same. I feel we just need to be there for them!
    Blessings :)

  • Melissa Smith

    Thank you so much for this! Going to print it off and let this help me not put my Christian clichéd foot in my mouth so often.

  • Gail

    I found who my true friends were who loved me and Phil (who I lost on 10/1/14). Many people who are supposedly your friend, disappears when you are going thru the health problem your loved one is going thru that leads to death! After the death of my loved one…some of these people think by picking up the phone once in awhile and call, they have done their duty as a friend. I find that those people can’t handle death and then ignore the person who is grieving of the loss and being alone! Thank goodness for a few who showed they truly cared and loved both of us, and did not just ignore me afterwards! God Bless my true friends that gave this support this past year! Plus, I could not have done it without the love of my Lord!

  • Esther Stone

    I just lost my husband. Having someone tell me to take off my rings because he didn’t need me anymore just about cut my heart in two. Your suggestions are so right on, Liz. A simple, genuine hug (yes, even with tears) and someone saying how much they loved my husband and love me meant the world to me. “I’m praying for you” always let me know that even though my heart was breaking and I felt like I couldn’t breathe others were holding me up before the Lord and somehow together we would make it because of them. My friends hurt when I hurt and I know it. No words are needed. Hugs, love, prayer, companionship – that means so much. Thank you for this blog, Liz! I love you, Dear Friend. ~ Esther Stone