My Grief Care

Relationships After Loss

5 Episodes

Episode 2 : Why Don’t Friends and Family Understand Your Grief?


Episode Notes

When Friends and Family Don't Understand

One of the most common things we hear from grievers when we are working with them or speaking somewhere is how their friends and family just don’t get it or understand. It is a disappointment and heartache to them as the people they thought would support them often don’t. There are many reasons for this and we hope with this series, we will be able to help you and them out, so it doesn’t need to be that way. There is a lot we can do about this.

Let’s start with understanding what is going on and why.

“When a child is born or when they get married, people celebrate, and when they die, people pretend nothing happened,” Margaret Mead famously observed. People are frequently at a loss for what to say or do in the presence of someone who is mourning. Should they talk about the loss? Is it appropriate for them to act as if nothing happened? Both you, the one who has experienced the loss and your friends, relatives, and acquaintances, are in a tough situation. It may be easier for them to be around a grieving person who suppresses their emotions, but this emotional self-control serves no purpose other than to make everyone around you feel better. But it usually doesn’t help you.

When you’re grieving, your responsibility isn’t to focus on how to make everyone else feel better about their feelings. Unfortunately, in addition to your own sadness, you will have to deal with other people’s emotions about the loss and to you, which can be unpredictable and even unpleasant.

Let me share a little secret with you – People’s reactions to your grief have little to do with you or what you’re going through; they’re simply expressing their own emotions. Grief, by its very nature, causes social discomfort. Some folks will remain mute and unresponsive. Others will make a remark that irritates you. Friends and family may retreat from you, “giving you space,” but you may feel alienated and unsupported as a result. Don’t be surprised if some of your relatives and friends withdraw. Some people do it because they believe that is what you want, but they may also be trying to recover or protect themselves from their own emotions.

Some may share their religious views “It’s God’s will.” or “part of God’s plan,” “Everything occurs for a reason,” “They are in a better place,” or “Now you have an angel in heaven” are some of the statements that people will make.

Others may try to rationalize or intellectualize it  by saying things like “He lived a full life,” “It might have been worse,” “We all have to die someday,” “They would want you to move on with your life,” “Time heals all wounds,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “Perhaps it is better this way.”

Some people will attempt to divert your attention away from your pain. “You have to move on because you have others to care for,” “Be grateful for everything you have,” or “Be brave for the children,” are some of the phrases used.

Even basic attempts to connect with you while you’re grieving, such as “I understand how you feel,” might be condescending. These phrases can be hurtful because they downplay your loss and make you feel isolated and alone in your grieving.

So how do you respond to claims like these? First and foremost, remember that most individuals are only trying to help in their own way, no matter how uncomfortable or poorly placed their remarks may be.  I read a good quote by a woman who lost her husband that said “I learned never to hold anything said at a funeral against somebody,”

There’s grace and truth in this—people don’t know what to say, and in their haste to come up with something soothing, their words often come out incorrectly.”  It’s pointless to lash out at someone who is striving to be supportive; it’ll only make you regret it later.

If someone makes a statement to which you feel compelled to respond, you can say, “That’s simply not what I need to hear right now,” or “Thank you, but I need more time to think about it.”

Alternatively, rather than responding at all, you may simply ask for what you need. Tell them you need someone to talk to once a week or someone to vent to without being judged or offering solutions. And if you’re not sure what will feel right, tell them: “I’m not sure what I need, but I’ll let you know if something doesn’t feel right.” People are frequently paralyzed when they are needed by friends who are grieving because they are frightened to speak or do something inappropriate.

We cover this more in Building Your Support team series, so please check that series out.

I have said this in other episodes and I want to say it again.  Please remember how you responded to grieving people prior to your devastating loss.  I am sick about what I used to think and say to my friends who suffered a heartbreaking loss.  I didn’t give them the attention they needed and I definitely said the wrong things, thinking I was helping.  It was only AFTER my loss, that my eyes were opened.

Most people come from a good place. They don’t get it. They are uncomfortable, so avoid you or say the wrong. Or your loss may bring up emotions for them.

The good news is there is a lot you can do to help them help you and we are going to share that with you.

Please err on the side of grace.  Building up resentment towards all those who have let you down will only make things harder for you.  And this is also why we encourage people to find a community of people who understand as this grieving journey can go much longer than our friends and family think it should.  Again, we talk about that in the Building Your Support Team Series.

I love what I heard a man say about how he responded to the things people would say after his wife died and how he “listened with his heart,” not “his ears”.  Maybe it will help you.

He said:

“What I chose to do, in most of the instances, when someone said something hurtful or unhelpful after my wife died, was to simply listen with my heart rather than with my ears. 

When I listened with my heart, I could hear their love, sadness, caring, and desire to help, 

When I listened with my ears, I was angered, saddened, amazed (not in a good way),disappointed, and found myself slipping into separation and isolation – none of which were good or helpful. 

Further, there were so many things I might have said in response or educated them on, but the truth was that in that situation, I had neither the energy nor the desire. 

I compare it to dog poo. If I’m walking along and notice a pile of dog poo, I acknowledge what 

it is, step over it, and keep moving. 

I do not stop and spend time trying to identify the shade of brown, or figure out if it came from a Collie or a Corgi, or whether that dog ate dry food or kibble – I just step over it and keep moving. And, I don’t go looking for the owners to tell them that they should clean up after their dog. I just step over it and keep moving. 

Grievers could certainly educate others about what to say or to not say, what helps and what doesn’t. But sometimes, they simply seldom have the energy and don’t want to hear the lengthy apologies of the person who said what was not helpful to begin with.”


  • It is common for people around you not to understand or “get what you are going through.”
  • There is a lot you can do to help them help you.
  • You can chose to be resentful or give them grace and listen with your heart and remember how you responded to grieving people before you lost your loved one.
  • If there really are toxic people in your life, it may be time to reevaluate those relationships.


  • Do I understand that most of the people around me have good hearts but have no idea what to do?
  • How am I choosing to react to them?  With resentment or grace?
  • Did I behave better than them when my friends lost loved ones in the past?
  • Are there people, who don’t have good intentions, who may be toxic to you right now?


It’s really hard to understand something you don’t understand.

By understanding your needs and how to communicate them to those around you, you will guide people on how to respond to you and it can make things so much better for you.