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top 5 things not to say at a funeral May 9, 2007

Posted by guinever in christianity, death, everyday life, grief, healing, heaven, loss.

In the two years since my daughter’s death, several people have asked me what they can say to a friend who has just lost a child or another loved one. My answer has always been,

There are truly no words. Just listen. Get your friend talking.

Ask about their loved one. Ask what they miss the most, what they remember. If you have some stories to tell about the person who has just died, tell them. They will grasp onto your memories and cherish them.

Here are five things not to say to the grieving family at the visitation or funeral and why you shouldn’t say them:

  1. You can always have another child. OR you’re young; you can get married again.
  2. Don’t worry. You’ll see him again.
  3. At least he didn’t suffer long.
  4. He is in a better place.
  5. Be thankful he died at an early age. He doesn’t have to experience pain and heartache on this earth.

Although these might be true statements, they are not helpful and can be very hurtful. You can’t replace a person by having another child or remarrying. The parents will want this child back. The widow will want her husband back. The child will want his parent back.

For Christians, death is bitter sweet; yes, we’re glad that our loved ones are in heaven and we look forward to seeing them again. But the reality is that we would much rather have our loved one here right now with us.

A note to pastors for mother’s day


1. noemi - May 9, 2007

It’s good we give out grief education. It’s just these people don’t know. I am going to add this blog to my blogroll.


2. Duncan - May 10, 2007

So true. I think that most of these things are said out of discomfort. “It hurts me to see you hurting”. The most powerful expressions of support I had during the loss of my daughter were from people who were quiet, who cried, who left space for emptiness, without being so overwhelmed that I needed to care for them.


3. Carolyn - May 10, 2007

I love your list because it hits home with me. When my father died, lots of people said #4. It’s the most hated phrase! To me it’s the worst thing to say to someone who’s grieving. I do understand that it’s difficult to find the words to comfort a friend. I’ve been in that situation, even after I’ve suffered a loss. I’m not happy that my father’s in another place! I want him here!

After a very dear friend of mine lost her husband to cancer, I visited her at home every week. She was finding it so difficult without him after 60 years of marriage. One day I told her that I wished that I could say something that would make her feel better. Then, she told me that my visits with her, just sitting and listening to her talk, meant so much to her. And, I realized that that is so true. Talking is so important when you’re grieving.

My friend passed away earlier this year, and I’m so grateful that I have that memory of comforting her during her loss.

Thanks for your list!


4. Martha Mihaly - May 14, 2007

Hi, I think your top 5 list is so good. I think people often say the wrong thing with the right intentions…but once the comment is out there it can’t be taken back. I’d like to borrow your words and refer to them on my blog. Please have a look and let me know whether that would be okay?

You may quote me and link to the post. Thanks for stopping by my blog. ~Blessings, Guinever


5. Martha Mihaly - May 14, 2007

Thank you Guinever.


6. amanda - May 16, 2007

Hello Guinever,
I found you through Martha’s blog, and was wondering if I could reference this post on the blog for Widowspeak (www.widow-speak.org).
Thanks for your work towards grief education–I’m adding you to my feed reader.
–Amanda Shaffer

Dear Amanda,
Thanks for visiting my blog. Feel free to reference this post and link to it. Sorry for your loss.
Blessings, Guinever


7. Shelagh Mayhew - May 19, 2007

Guinever .. on your loss… I have so much to say and there is no time to say it. That is what I wish I could have said to my father. I just said I love you and I’ll see you on Friday. I didn’t get to, he died that morning and I was 60 miles away. I had a hard time coming to grips with the loss of my mother when I was 21 but a very good friend lost her dad when she was 15. Life comes as suddenly as it goes and we often wish we had said the right thing to them. To have a last embrace .. a last kiss …a lost look at those eyes that used to shine. Rememberance is the hope for the future to get better and the past to be. Never forget it gets easier as the time passes. I had a still-borne girl baby… her name is Samantha….I still remember after 23 years the hope I had for her. Shelagh M.


8. amy - June 4, 2007

#1 is particularly bad, as is #3. I don’t understand why #2 is bad. I am comforted to know that I will see Abby, and David, and John, and my Grandpas, and countless others again.

I appreciate the insight. Hopefully I have never said these things.

Knowing that Abby is in heaven and I’ll see her again is comforting and it is the thing that has been most helpful in coping with her absence. But for random people to always be saying “Don’t worry, you’ll see her again,” seems to minimize the loss. I suspect that everyone who has said this has not experienced a significant death in their life (child especially, spouse also). I suspect that if and when they do lose someone very close, they will no longer use these words. Oh, Amy, just so you know, your words have never hurt me! You have been most helpful these 2 1/2 years. much love, Guinever


Israel - March 6, 2011

I agree with Amy and with Paul and the New Testament saints….Can’t wait to see them.Do you ever wonder why Jesus raised so few from the dead? He knew he wasn’t doing them any favors by bringing them back. Sorry got off the subject.God bless all of you guys. Bye


9. Stephen M (Ethesis) - August 5, 2007

Very well said.


10. susie - September 26, 2007

I know all these things are said with the best of intent. People just don’t know what to say, although I think it’s better that they say SOMETHING, at least they are trying & God bless them for that. I lost a baby girl 2 years ago and I remember a few things that people said or did that weren’t comforting. One friend of mine would often say (my grandma had passed away months earlier) “I think your grandma just needed someone with her”– although I like to think that my grandma can rock my little Lily up in Heaven, I didn’t like the implication that my grandma would have ever wanted this to happen. Another thing to be careful for if you are sending a card, is what is printed in it. This seems like a no brainer, but my dentist office sent me a sympathy card (I’m sure they just have a drawer full) and it said “may your happy memories comfort you…” Reading that was so painful, b/c that was one of the main things I was grieving for… I didn’t get a chance to make memories with my baby girl. Also another woman I didn’t know, gave me a little figurine that someone had given her when she had lost a child and wrote a card and said that she had lost 3 babies. I hated even the thought of losing another child– I couldn’t keep the figurine. That sounds horrible, but when I looked at it made me think of it happening again… it was just too painful.

Susie, I’m so sorry that you lost your baby girl. I understand not keeping the figurine. ~blessings, Guinever


11. ken - December 22, 2007

I am sure anyone who has lost a child could add to this list.
Here are mine:
1) “I know how you feel, I lost my mother (or father or honestly someone said dog) recently.” I lost my father son and mother all in the same year and there is no comparison.
2) I adopted my son when he was 6. He was from my wife’s first marriage. My sister-in-law said “At least he wasn’t a real Poulin(my last name)”. That one hurt the most.
3) “I couldn’t make it to Patrick’s wake because I spilled mustard on my tie”. I understand that some people just can’t bring themselves to go to funerals and that is fine with me. Just don’t make up lame excuses why you couldn’t come.


12. cara - January 28, 2008

thank you so much for posting this. I wish I could of read it when my little one left. Is the link to pastors some place else? This one don’t seem to be working

I just fixed the link. Sorry it wasn’t working before. Hope you were able to find it. And I’m sorry for your loss. ~blessings, Guinever


13. Heather Idoni - April 7, 2008

My dear Guinever,

It has been 7 weeks since we said goodbye to Hallel Selah — and I devoted today for another “cry day”. Mondays are good since I don’t have to go anywhere.

The friends who simply said “I’m so sorry” and gave me a hug — those were the best offerings.

Most “offenders” just say too much. However, those who have lost a child themselves could say ANYTHING they wanted and nothing would be wrong.

I want to say thank you SO much for mentioning Abby finding Hallel in Heaven to play with. I googled “Hallel Selah” and your post came up. Being so internet oriented, it is like a part of her is alive when you can find someone mentioning her online. Wow… it was such a joy to my heart. Does that make sense? She exists. It is like “web validation”. LOL

I love you, my sister.

((((((hugs)))))) for you and Abby.


I love you Heather, and I’m so very sorry that your sweet little Hallel Selah isn’t in your arms right now. ~hugs and prayers, Guinever


14. kathy newell - August 23, 2008

it’s kathy, karla’s mom…..
i read your poem and cried for you
and i cried for me…
somedays i just wonder if the tears are really helping
somedays, not to wish years away, but there are times that i wish it was 100 years from now so the pain wasn’t so fresh…
hopes and dreams washed away…but, graciously, not for life in general…
i suffer from pts…i had a bad car wreck on ice…it made my driving, and others, fearful and worrisome…i can’t bear the thought of anyone having a car wreck..if my car feels like it’s slipping, i feel a rising panic in my whole body…..it makes me sick…
when someone loses someone close to them, i fear for them because i feel the loss of michael over and over….it’s not that i try to avoid it, but i certainly don’t have to call it up….it’s ever present….sometimes still so raw that i can’t believe it…it’s been 5 1/2 years since he died….
my girlfriend emy is dealing with her elderly mom slipping away…doctors have given her weeks…..i have dreamed of helping her with her mom since mine has already passed…i wanted to help her..i try to help with driving her to dr appt’s..i take her to lunch…but now it’s progressed to being confined to the nursing home…i guess i am still helping with visits and calls to talk…but when emy calls me all i can do is quietly nod/agree and then i start my crying jags all over again…dying is sad to me..plain and simple..i’d rather have all that have died still with me…
you made it through yesterday and you will make it through many tomorrows…we love you and we love you more becasue of it…please know i am praying for you, for myself, for others who have our pain…
love, kathy


15. Robin Kay - August 28, 2008

Dear anybody. I have endured many losses in the past 5 years and without much comfort, support or understanding. I am struggling with the lose of my mom, mother-in-law (I loved her like a mom) and my brother, a friend who committed suicide, 2 Aunts, a cousin and 2 Uncles and just recently our dearest friend. In the span of 5 years, I find that I can’t really process one grief stage before another merges with it. I just had a statement made to me while expressing the frustration of my brothers headstone being delayed and taking another 6-8 weeks and the person said, “well he is going to be there for eternity, so another few weeks won’t matter, so don’t get to worked up about it.” What does anyone think about that! am I being too sensitive to respond with upset feelings?

Thanks for listening.
ps. I believe in heaven and have comfort in knowing they are their, but like you all talked about, those kinds of words don’t help much


16. Elizabeth - September 17, 2008

Another one is, “well, she had a long life.” That was said to me when my 72 year old mother passed away. A long life doesn’t minimize the grief to those left behind. And it is almost like saying, “it was time for her to go.” It demeans the loss although I know that is not the intention of those who say it. The best comfort is from those who will listen and talk and occasionally cry with you. And silence is not a bad thing either. Just the presence of someone who cares can be a comfort to someone who is grieving.


17. tony - October 5, 2008

good article thank you


18. Barb - October 9, 2008

Your list is very good. You’re right. We lost our only child, (beautiful daughter), when she was killed in an auto accident on her way home from school. She was only 17, a senior. The boy that was driving was most likely going to be our son in law, and we miss him terribly too, especially my husband. That was 19 years ago, October 6th. I still can’t believe she’s gone. We went into shock because we kissed her good-bye that morning and then never got to talk to her again. It was awful, but “at least” she was killed instantly and didn’t suffer. I only wished I would have picked her up that day instead of agreeing, (after many arguments), to let Ben drive her home from school. I always think that if I had just insisted instead of giving in, we’d still have her today. Now, I’ll never hold her again and I’ll never have grandchildren. Even though it shouldn’t be about me, I can’t help but feel like my life was ruined that day too. How I wished then and now that it would have been me. She had so much to look forward to. She was not only beautiful to look at, she was a beautiful person. She worried about elderly people, homeless people, children with no parents, abused children and people and animals. Her heart was so big and she only wished she could solve all the problems for all the people in the world that needed help. She promised to take care of me and her dad when we got old, and now I wonder who will do that for me? Who will make sure the nursing home employees don’t abuse me when I can no longer get out of bed?
Thank you for a place to leave a comment like this. I hope these words will help someone else out there to realize that they aren’t alone. And the one bit of advice we got that really helps…to this day…is this: “Don’t dwell on it.” So, when ever I start thinking about it too much, I just make myself get busy doing something, anything, to take my mind of it. It’s hard, but it’s either that or quit waking up everyday. And my mom, brother and husband are still here, so I can’t just quit living even if I want to because I wouldn’t want to make them live with that.

Dear Barb,
I’m so sorry that your daughter died. We will never forget our daughters who are no longer with us.
~prayers and blessings, Guinever


19. Eileen Brittingham - January 5, 2009

I just lost my dearest friend that I was trying to help get off drugs to an overdose on Saturday. The next night I saved her daughter as I found her taking her last breath overdosing on the same drug her mother has just die from 24 hours earlier. We were able to revive her, and now she is anger with me for saving her life. I live with this family, as they are my family! I did everything in my power to stop her and her daughter from taking drugs, and failed! My dear friend that pasted and her daughter were and are very anger with me for trying to stop this, they just did not understand I was doing out of pure love for them, and that I did not want this vary thing to happen! I need help with my guilty feelings. Because for the past seven months I was trying to rid her of this horrible addiction! I was mean and anger with her all the time, because I wanted her here with us and not lose her as we did. I was attempting the hard love way to try and help her see that she was hurting all that loved her everyday. And now I am suffering so badly from guilt I just do not know how to deal with it! Any words of comfort would be much appreciated.

Blessings to all,

Oh, Eileen, I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.I think that in time her daughter will embrace life and thank you for helping to save her life.
~peace and grace, Guinever


20. Valerie Provines - March 9, 2009

I lost my daughter, Christina, 37, to cancer one year ago. Often people ask me if she had children, and when I say no they ask me why not or they say it’s good she didn’t. They also ask if she was married and I explain she wasn’t but that when she found out she had cancer she and her boy-friend got married. I don’t like to be rude, but I just now realized that since I never liked answering certain questions, I don’t have to explain anything I don’t want to. What I like is when someone who knew her tells me something about her I didn’t know myself, like what she said one time in a certain situation…


Colette - April 11, 2010

Hi Valerie:

I read what you were telling us about your daughter Christina and It touched me. My daughter Renée died in Feb 2008 from brain cancer when she was 24. I’d like to hear from her friends also about something that I didn’t know myself. I don’t hear from people anymore and its sad.



21. Brenda Smith - June 18, 2009

5 years ago my 6 year old nephew died awaiting a liver transplant. Our family had just lost my uncle in a plane crash and my father to cancer within 2 years. When a friend said “perhaps it’s for the best” that my nephew died, I was very hurt. I was his godmother and I still miss him every day. I urge everyone to become an organ donor so other children won’t have to go through what he did. He was a brave little boy that fought like a man to live. He is my hero.


22. Michele Crockett - December 16, 2009

My son, Max, died on Aug. 23, 2008. He had just turned 15 a month before his death. He had a massive heat stroke while his team had to run for punishment during football practice and died 3 days later. He was an awesome young man and I feel he died for his team, more specifically his head coach. I understand that people are at a loss for words but if your not sure what to say then a simple “I’m sorry for your loss.” would be just fine.
But unfortunately some people allow ignorance to take hold of them when they are at a loss for words!!! During the visitation one of the coaches’ wives said she felt that “God took Max to save him from something even more tragic that may have happened later on in his life”. And that’s supposed to be comforting! Then, the head coaches’ wife, during the funeral offered her condolences but followed it with how difficult it has been on her husband and how he feels like he lost a boy too! I was so numb at that point that it really didn’t hit me until later on that evening. How can anyone pretend to know what you are going through unless they have lost a child of their own?!
I guess you could say that I am in an anger phase of grief at the moment! I know my son is with God in Heaven and that gives me some comfort but I would much rather him be with us here on earth. I was robbed of seeing my son attend his first high school dance, getting his high school ring, graduation, college, marriage and grandchildren. This sounds selfish but these are my feelings.
Max will live on in the many memories of his family and friends. He was a big boy (6ft 2in and 216 lbs) with a big heart! He always fought for the underdog. His favorite movie was “Forrest Gump” and every now and then a faint ” I love you Mom-may” can be heard, just as Forrest would say “I love you Jen-nay” in the movie. He was the sweetest. A big Teddy Bear. The friday before his ‘accident”, his coaches told me, after a scrimmage game, that Max would do everything that was asked of him on the field. The only complaint they had with him was that he was too nice (gentle). I can certainly live with that “complaint”. I love you my Gentle Giant.

I am so so sorry for your loss. I don’t think that you’re being selfish at all. I had a few similar comments to the ones that you heard about our children being taken to save them from something worse later on. Someone actually suggested that my daughter might have become a prostitute and that dying age 2 saved her from that. Where do people come up with these things and how they can they even think that those thoughts are remotely comforting?

I hope you find healing and peace and enjoy a lifetime of memories through the tears. ~blessings, Guinever


23. yoko - July 2, 2010

Hi Guinever,

My best friend just lost her dad a few days ago. Like many of the people you described I said a few things that might not have been helpful. She was in another state so I sent her a text message and in the message, I told her that her father had lived a wonderful and good life, and that she should look at it this way, that he’s in a place much better than this wicked world. I also told her that she would see him again, but not just now! After reading this page, I’m very embarrassed and I feel terrible. I do not know what it is like to lose a father but she is my friend and my heart is breaking for her. Please what can I do?



24. Daniel - September 6, 2010

One thing I never want to hear again from Christians after a death is “I just hope he came to the Lord before he went because I dread to think where he might be now otherwise.”
What are we, barbarians?


25. Colette - February 26, 2011

I still get people telling me that “Everything happens for a reason”. I don’t understand why people think that’s a good thing to say. You don’t say that to someone who’s lost a child.


26. Vanessa - March 31, 2011


I just read this blog, and I have found it so helpful, thank you all for taking the time to make comments. I am admire the courage the that you all have to share your private stories.

I have a new colleague at work who has lost her young son, suddenly, and I wouldn’t know what to say as I can’t imagine the suffering she must be going through. I am due to go to the funeral tomorrow and I’m so thankful that I have found this advice online. Unfortunately I only met this person a month ago when she joined the company and didn’t really have the chance to get to know her or even ask about her family. Then only a few weeks later, we heard of the loss of her young son. I am her assistant and have never suffered a loss myself or even gone to a funeral and I do worry that I may be overwhelmed by tears and I don’t want to be a burden to her but I do feel is appropriate I attend. Please could you give me any advice?


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