Death and loss: Psychologist reveals common phrases you should never say to people who are grieving

‘You’ll get over it with time’ and ‘they wouldn’t want you to feel like this’ are among the worst things you can say to a grief-stricken friend who has recently lost a loved one, an Australian psychologist has revealed.

They are two of the seven phrases Kali Alfaro warns do more harm than good when you are trying to comfort someone who is mourning a close friend or relative.

Saying you ‘know how they feel’ is untrue and unhelpful, as is encouraging them to ‘be strong’, ‘stop crying’ and insisting the person who has died ‘wouldn’t want you to feel this way’, the Perth practitioner claims.

Attempting to calm a mourner by saying their late loved one ‘had a great life and a peaceful death’ should also be avoided, Ms Alfaro says – it does nothing to change the heartbreak of their loss.

And while it might be cliched, she believes ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ is one of the kindest messages you can say or send, because it acknowledges the person is suddenly missing someone dear to them.

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Perth psychologist Kali Alfaro (pictured) says telling someone you 'know how they feel' after they have lost a loved one is the worst thing you can say - because you don't

Perth psychologist Kali Alfaro (pictured) says telling someone you ‘know how they feel’ after they have lost a loved one is the worst thing you can say – because you don’t

Seven things you should never say to a person who is grieving

1. ‘Don’t cry or be upset, they’re resting now.’

2. ‘At least they had a peaceful death.’

3. ‘They had a good life, you should be happy for them.’

4. ‘You’ll get over it with time.’

5. ‘They wouldn’t want you to feel like this.’

6. ‘Be strong, don’t let others see you upset.’

7. ‘I know how you feel’ – then launching into a story about your experience with death; this is not a time to compare stories.

Source: Kali Alfaro via AlfaPsychology

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‘There is no right or wrong or even a correct formula or time frame when it comes to grief. It is one of the most complex life experiences a person will go through,’ Ms Alfaro told Daily Mail Australia.

‘The message you want to give the person in grief is, “I acknowledge your feelings, I’m sorry for your loss, I’m here to support you”.’

Ms Alfaro says the most helpful thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to offer practical assistance like cooking meals, minding kids or walking dogs.

This eases the stresses and strains of everyday responsibility, allowing the mourner to rebuild themselves and slowly pick up the pieces of their life.

‘The emotional avalanche of grief consumes a lot of energy and people find it hard to do practical day to day things,’ Ms Alfaro said.

She says reassuring the mourner that they are entitled to feel however they are feeling will help them to move through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – in a healthy way.

And while shock, relief and guilt are the most common feelings experienced during grief, Ms Alfaro warns emotions related to death can be complicated, conflicting and unpredictable.

Grief-related feelings are confusing, she said, and have been known to cause debilitating physical symptoms like aches, pains and extreme exhaustion. 

While it might be cliched, Ms Alfaro believes 'I'm sorry for your loss' is one of the kindest messages you can say or send, because it acknowledges the person is suddenly missing someone dear to them (stock image)

While it might be cliched, Ms Alfaro believes ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ is one of the kindest messages you can say or send, because it acknowledges the person is suddenly missing someone dear to them (stock image)

Six phrases to comfort someone who is grieving

– ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’

– ‘I’m sending you love/prayers’

– ‘I’m here for you if you want to talk about it’

– ‘I can take the kids out if you need so you can have space’

– ‘I can see you’re really hurting, I’m so sorry, I’m here with you’

– ‘You’re allowed to feel these things’

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Ms Alfaro said it’s important to remember that feelings come in waves and are likely to erupt unexpectedly when someone is grieving.

The best way to steady these waves and prevent longer term mental health issues is to create space for the mourner to share their feelings whenever they are ready. 

‘People need to have the space to safely express and be heard, not be told what to do,’ Ms Alfaro said.

‘Allowing them that space is very important for grief to be lived, otherwise it can get repressed and develop into anxiety, depression and social isolation.’

For more information on grief and supporting a loved one in mourning, visit Grief Australia or Beyond Blue.