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Eight Euphemisms to Avoid Saying at Funerals and Hospitals

Many well-meaning funeral attendees, hospital visitors, and family and friends lack an understanding and feel awkward about finding the appropriate and comforting thing to say to the bereaved and caregivers. The problem with euphemisms is that they tend to downsize and minimize the bereaved or caregivers right to feel whatever it is they feel, which is in no way empathetic and comforting.

Given my personal and professional knowledge of bereavement counseling, I wanted to compile the top eight list of bereavement euphemisms to avoid.

  1. At least you're young enough to get remarried. It is a misnomer that all young widows and widowers, especially widows, will have the opportunity to get remarried and want to get remarried, just as it is inaccurate that all widows and widowers (of any age) seek remarriage. Additionally, this statement is surely inappropriately timed if said at or anytime after the funeral.

  2. God gave you no more than you can handle. Most caregivers, ill patients, and bereaved will wholeheartedly disagree with this statement, even among the religious. I prefer instead to tell your loved ones that you will pray for them to have spiritual strength and give them a warm hug.

  3. At least you're young enough to have another child. This has to be the worst statement to say to a mom and dad who have recently experienced the death of an unborn and born child. This statement minimizes the right of the parents to grieve and process their loss, which is a vital part of their healing process. One can never replace a child, since each is unique.

  4. At least your parent or spouse died at a ripe old age. This statement presumes that the bereaved adult child or widow/er is not allowed and will not experience grief. Evidence shows that this is not true. It is, in fact, the nature of the relationship and attachment that someone has, as well as how someone died, that often influences the grief the bereaved experiences. It is vital for the bereaved to be allowed to grieve and process their grief, even if they are grieving their 99-year-old father.

  5. He/She is in a better place . This expression may work for the traditionally religious Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but even then, do you know the exact mindset and religious interpretations of the bereaved? It is often not taken how the well-intentioned person says this. The bereaved, despite the belief in the afterlife, have to deal with the reality of the lack of physical presence and being cut off from the full support and companionship in this present life, in addition to the strong reminder of their own death.

  6. It's been a year. Aren't you over it yet? Despite what Western culture would like us to believe, bereavement takes longer to process and adjust to than one year. It is not uncommon, for example, for the bereaved to be triggered during new life transitions, anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays, and to have more difficulty with the declining support from family and friends. This statement will only serve to make someone feel crazy and ashamed for their grief, and negatively impact their relationship with the person who said this. Instead, ask the bereaved how you can help support them when they are having a tough time and support them in finding a ritual to honor the deceased together.

  7. I know how you feel. This statement minimizes the unique grieving experience of the bereaved. Instead it is better to ask the grieving person how they feel. If you can relate to a similar experience, instead say "I felt ____ after my wife died. I wonder how you are feeling right now." Or another good one is "I can't even imagine what you are going through."

  8. God must have wanted him/her there, because he/she is a good person. This may be true that God wants all of us with Him, but this statement comes off harsh and minimizes the grieving person's right to have a full array of feelings, including anger and disappointment. I prefer to accept that none of us understand and know the intentions of God, so this statement is ultimately unhelpful in satisfying the bereaved's tendency to ask "Why now?" Instead, how about telling your loved one, "He/She was a wonderful person and I'll miss him/her dearly." And then give your relative or friend a hug.

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