When someone you care about has experienced loss, you probably just want to do what you can and find the right words to make them feel better. But it’s not always easy — and sometimes, in an effort to be helpful, we can inadvertently say something that comes off as offensive.
“The reality is, people mean well,” Robin Goodman, Ph.D., executive director and program director of A Caring Hand
, tells Refinery29. “And they want to say the right things, but they can feel awkward. It’s a topic that just isn’t well talked-about. The more we can talk about it, the better it is for everyone.”
William Hoy, Ph.D., a medical humanities professor at Baylor University, agrees. “People don’t say hurtful or unhelpful things out of a desire to be cruel,” he tells us. “Instead, I think we are doing our best to care. If we did not care, we would say nothing at all.”
Oftentimes, Dr. Goodman says, we’re trying to make the other person feel better. Still, it’s important to remember that the one thing they want is the one thing you can’t do: bring the deceased person back. Instead, she recommends keeping in mind that the person just needs to feel understood and cared about.
“I think people think it’s really hard [to know what to say to someone], which is why they get stuck,” she says.
Ahead, some common sayings that might actually be more insensitive than they are comforting, with experts weighing in on what to say instead. Welcome to Death Week. This week, we'll attempt to unpack our feelings, fears, and hang-ups about death, dying, and mourning. We’ll do our best to leave no gravestone unturned.