The Life of Bon: What NOT to say when someone has died.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What NOT to say when someone has died.

Yesterday I attended my Uncle Berg's funeral.

The day was one filled with reflection and gratitude for life.

As I stood in the viewing line yesterday morning, I thought about what I would say to my aunt, the widow.  Because of my own dad's death two years ago, I had some clue as to what things would bring her comfort, and what things would just make it worse. 

I do know, however, that for many the "what do I say when someone has died?" does not come easy at all.  In fact, I know that for many it is something extremely difficult and uncomfortable and even awkward.  Many just don't know what is appropriate to say or what the griever will want to hear, and therefore, don't say anything or say the wrong thing.

Last night when I got home from the funeral, I pulled out my journal and looked at the entries surrounding my dad's death.  They are days that live in my memory as dark and painful and without understanding.  The words on the journal pages clearly reflect that.
And, yet, somehow, admidst all that heartache, there was a stroke of brilliance.
I had written a list.

The following is written on the day that my dad passed away.  I have copied it down verbatim because although I certainly never thought these would be shared with anyone but myself, I think the world could benefit from a little more understanding of what to say during times like these.

November 19, 2009

  • "Calm down" (What my manager at Sizz said when I couldn't stop crying.)
  • "Be strong." (An impossible demand at such a difficult time.)
  • A bunch of stories about someone else that someone, sometime, somewhere, don't try to lessen my sorrow by talking of the sorrows of others.  It doesn't help right now.
  • "WHAT?!?!?!" (What one of my dad's old friend's said when Mary told him)
  • "Just go take a shower and give a pissed off cry" ("pissed off" doesn't begin to cover the emotions that I am feeling right now.)
  • "Don't cry, because if you cry then I'll cry, too" (Oh, okay, well I wouldn't want to make you cry would I?  And since I have a lot of control over my tears right now, anyway...)
  • "That is so sad that he died alone."
  • "Wow, I can't even imagine how hard this must be.  I've never been through anything so painful, it must be so so hard."  (Um... yah... but you're not helping anything)
  • "You have the worst luck!"
  • Saying nothing.
  • I'm so sorry.
  • I love you so much.
  • Your dad was a great man.
  • Your dad will be missed.
  • He loved you so much.
  • My heart aches for you.
  • No words can express what I feel for you.
  • I'm praying for you.
  • Just want you to know that I'm thinking of you.
  • I'll be here for you.
  • You're my best friend and I love you and I will drop everything to be down to Price as fast as I can.

From the day of my dad's funeral.

I'm sorry if you feel that the blog has been kind of "heavy" lately. I guess somewhere deep down behind the jokes and sass and facade is a sensitive little girl who still misses her daddy.  And that's okay.


  1. Bonnie,

    I am so sorry!!!!

    I love how real you are on your blog. Thank you for that!!!


  2. Just so you know. I still love you, I still would love to listen to you anytime you need and I would still drive to Price for you. Love you bon!

  3. This is great. Most times people want to give comfort, but have no idea how to. Usually something short, simple and thought-out is best.

  4. Well said. People somehow say the rudest things.

    My grandma is on her last leg and I am not looking forward to going through all this again.

  5. I hate to admit it, but I am one of those people who really gets anxious over what to say at a funeral. Because I know I really can't even begin to understand what the person is feeling and I don't want to come off like I do.

    Thanks for this post, and I'm really sorry about your Dad and Uncle.


  6. So is two years too late to apologize for not saying anything? I was really sad when your dad died thought and prayed about you and your family (still do). Love you and your family. Your dad is a great man and has made a lasting difference in so many many many lives.

    Hopefully I'll have the courage to speak up in the future.

  7. totally understand this one. different circumstances, (my mom passed away when I was 11)...but I've experienced all those "what not to say" moments. It's a journey, that's for sure.

    P.S. A fellow "Bonnie" under the age of 65? We're a rare bunch:-) xoxo

  8. Hi Bonnie,

    I am just discovering your blog (via Daily Bruski) and I must say it's refreshing to see someone being so vulnerable about pain and reality. My dad passed away when I was 5 (18 years ago) and sometimes people still don't know how to respond or say the right thing. All I can hope is that when others experience a loss, I can be the listener and encourager that they need.

    Consider me a knew follower to Life of Bon!


  9. Oh sweetie I lost my step-dad 4 years ago & it hurt so much. I did all if the practical phone calls on behalf of my mum & when I called his Life Insurance company to ask how to start a claim as he had passed away the stupid woman on the phone insisted that she wanted to speak to the policy holder even though I was phoning to tell her he had died! I was livid.
    I bet you miss your dad so much, thanks for sharing.
    I love your blog btw x