At funerals, emotions run high, and the last thing anyone would want is to intensify someone’s pain with a misplaced comment. If you’ve ever wondered what not to say at a funeral service, this article is your solution.
We’ve curated a guide to avoid unintentionally amplifying grief with ill-chosen remarks. Here’s a list of 15 phrases best avoided at funerals and thoughtful alternatives to convey your sympathy and support.
Table of Contents
1. What Not To Say: “I Know How You Feel.”
While the intention might be to show empathy, this statement assumes a shared experience. Grief is personal, and even if you’ve experienced a similar loss, the emotional journey varies for each person. This might make the grieving person feel like their pain is being overlooked.
Instead Say: “I’m here for you.”
2. What Not To Say: “He’s In A Better Place.”
This attempts to offer solace but can come across as dismissive of the immediate loss. It may not align with the bereaved’s personal beliefs or feelings, and they might not be ready to think of their loved one being anywhere but with them.
Instead Say: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
3. What Not To Say: “At Least He Lived A Long Life.”
Though seemingly positive, such a statement can inadvertently belittle the significance of the loss. Focusing on the length of life might suggest that the pain of loss should be proportionally reduced, which is not the case. Every moment a family shares with a loved one is unique and cherished.
No matter the age, losing a loved one leaves a deep and unique void. Saying “at least” might come off as if there’s a threshold to their grief, which can be hurtful.
Instead Say: “He will be dearly/greatly missed.”
4. What Not To Say: “It Was His Time.”
This phrase implies certainty, which can be challenging for grieving family members to grapple with, especially when the loss feels untimely or unjust. It may invalidate their feelings of shock or denial, forcing them into a stage of acceptance they aren’t ready for.
Additionally, making such a definitive statement removes the individuality of grief, making the grieving feel as though their personal emotions and connections don’t matter.
Instead Say: “I’m thinking of you during this tough time.”
5. What Not To Say: “Everything Happens For A Reason.”
Such a statement can undermine the genuine and personal emotions felt by the bereaved. It can also imply that their grief is part of a grand design, which may be a perspective they’re not ready to accept or don’t believe in. The vagueness of the ‘reason’ doesn’t provide concrete comfort, and the bereaved might feel their pain is being trivialised.
Instead Say: “Please know that I’m here to support you.”
6. What Not To Say: “You’re Strong. You’ll Get Through This.”
It can make the grieving person feel they must suppress their grief to meet others’ expectations. They might also interpret it as downplaying the significance of their loss. Implying an expectation of strength can limit the bereaved’s freedom to grieve authentically.
Instead Say: “Take all the time you need to grieve.”
7. What Not To Say: “At Least You Have Other Children/Family Members.”
It can sound as though the deceased is replaceable or the presence of others diminishes their value. The phrase can also worsen feelings of guilt, as the bereaved might think they shouldn’t feel as devastated due to having other loved ones. Every person is irreplaceable and holds a unique place in one’s heart.
Instead Say: “Your love for [deceased’s name] was evident to all.”
8. What Not To Say: “Time Heals All Wounds.”
This can give an unintentional expiry date on their grief, suggesting that they’ll eventually ‘get over it’. Every person’s grieving process is unique; some pains may diminish, but others might stay. Such a statement can also make them feel isolated if they find that time isn’t healing as quickly as suggested.
Instead Say: “I’ll be here for you, no matter how long you need.”
9. What Not To Say: “You Should Be Prepared. He Was Ill For So Long.”
Anticipating a loss for someone nearing the end of their life doesn’t lessen its impact. This can insinuate that the bereaved didn’t appreciate the situation’s gravity or love the deceased enough.
Knowing someone is ill doesn’t make the actual loss any easier. It can also come across as blaming them for feeling the very natural emotions of grief.
Instead Say: “I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you.”
10. What Not To Say: “Let Me Know If There’s Anything I Can Do.”
While well-intentioned, this places the responsibility on the grieving person to reach out. It also makes them feel as if they have to identify what they need, which can be daunting when they’re already overwhelmed.
Instead Say: “I want to support you during this time. If you’re open to it, I can help with [specific task, e.g., grocery shopping, pet care, dinner].”
11. What Not To Say: “He Wouldn’t Want You To Be Sad.”
This tries to guide the grieving person’s emotions, but everyone grieves differently. It’s important to let them feel their emotions without judgement. It can also suppress the grieving person’s feelings and push them into a state they’re not ready for. Grief is a personal journey, and deciding how someone grieving should feel can be intrusive.
Instead Say: “Remember the good times and cherish those memories.”
12. What Not To Say: “Look On The Bright Side.”
Grief isn’t the time for optimism. This can feel like dismissing their pain, pushing the grieving person to find positivity in a situation where they might only see loss. It can also undermine the depth of their emotions, making them feel guilty for not seeing the ‘bright side’.
Instead Say: “I’m here to listen whenever you want to talk.”
13. What Not To Say: “God Has A Plan.”
Religious beliefs are personal, and assuming everyone shares the same view can feel exclusionary. The bereaved might be grappling with their beliefs, and such statements might deepen their spiritual crisis or doubt.
Instead Say: “I’m sending you love and comfort.”
14. What Not To Say: “You Need To Move On.”
Grieving has its own timeline. Imposing a timeframe can feel both insensitive and pressuring. This phrase can also make the bereaved feel that their pain is being underestimated and that they’re not grieving ‘correctly’ or ‘quickly’ enough.
Instead Say: “Take your time to heal.”
15. What Not To Say: “Death Is A Natural Part Of Life.”
While true in a broad sense, this can come across as emotionally detached. It also might come off as trying to rationalise an emotionally chaotic experience, which the grieving person may not resonate with.
Instead Say: “I mourn with you for [deceased’s name].”
You can refer to this list of phrases for guidance when crafting your condolence message. It offers suggestions to help convey your sympathies appropriately and genuinely. You can also read this article on 50 Meaningful Condolence Messages for more insights and examples.
Conclusion About What Not To Say At A Funeral
Whether attending a Buddhist funeral, Christian funeral, Taoist funeral, or any other funeral service, the importance of choosing the right words remains crucial. Being cautious with our words shows our empathy and understanding.
We can provide comfort instead of worsening pain by choosing our words wisely. Especially when it comes to the deceased’s family members, they are emotionally raw, and every word can leave a lasting impact. Remember, it’s always better to offer a listening ear than to accidentally say something hurtful in times of grief.
Frequently Asked Questions About What Not To Say At A Funeral
Is It Better To Say Nothing If I'm Unsure Of What To Say?
Sometimes, silence, accompanied by a comforting gesture like a hug or a hand on the shoulder, can speak volumes. Being there and showing you care is often more important than the words you use.
How Should I Respond If Someone Tells Me I've Said Something Inappropriate?
Apologise sincerely without getting defensive. Acknowledge their feelings and express that you meant no harm. The goal is to comfort, even if it means admitting you misspoke.
What Can I Do If I Can't Find The Words To Console Someone At A Funeral?
Actions can be as comforting as words. Offering practical support, like assisting with funeral arrangements or providing meals, can be invaluable. Also, just being present and offering a listening ear can be immensely comforting.
Are There Cultural Or Religious Differences I Should Be Aware Of Regarding What To Say At Funerals?
Absolutely. Different cultures and religions have specific customs and beliefs surrounding death and grieving. It’s beneficial to research or ask someone familiar with the customs to guide you. This way, you can ensure that your actions and what you want to say to someone are respectful.