Bereavement Quotes That Provide Comfort In Times Of Grief
By Danni Peck
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Deborah Horton
When someone you know is grieving, you want to comfort them and make them feel better. But in times of grief, our words can have the exact opposite effect. Instead of providing comfort and solace, they can make a grieving friend feel even worse. If a friend or acquaintance is experiencing grief, and you're not sure what to say, here are bereavement quotes and poems that can provide much-needed comfort.
What to Never Say In Times Of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler have made extraordinary contributions to the subject of grief. And in their extensive work, they've gathered up some of the worst things you can say to someone who is grieving.
Of course, when we say the wrong thing, it's not because we are callous or careless, it's simply because we don't know better.
So, while it might seem counterintuitive to first focus on the wrong things to say, it's a helpful approach to begin with. That's because when you know what not to say, you can avoid these hurtful words and find something more fitting and appropriate, including comforting bereavement quotes and poems.
Kessler shares the 10 worst things you can say to someone who is grieving, and here are three of them:
- "I know how you feel."
When we say this, we mean it in the best way, but the truth is, most of us have no idea how someone else experiences grief - even if we have experienced death and loss, too. That's because everyone's experience is unique and specific to them. The truth is, we don't know how another person feels.
- "At least he or she lived a long life, and didn't die young."
While the intention is good, these words can be hurtful. Sure, it's beautiful that they lived a long life, but that doesn't mean you should grieve them less. Death is always a great loss no matter when it occurs.
- "Be strong."
This might work for a boxer going back into the ring, but for someone who's grieving? This can send the wrong message. Being strong calls to mind the British call to "Keep a stiff upper lip." But what does this translate to?
When you tell someone to "be strong," you're essentially telling them that having sad feelings, or any feelings, is weak. But there's nothing weak about coming face-to-face with intense and difficult emotions. In fact, it takes incommensurable strength and great courage to feel grief and allow it to take its course.
In fact, emotional responses are not only necessary but healthy and healing. As a writer, F. Alexander Magoun's shares, "Tears have wisdom all of their own.They come when a person has relaxed enough to let go and to work through his (her) sorrow. They are the natural bleeding of an emotional wound, carrying the poison out of the system. Here lies the road to recovery."
Does that mean grief has to be expressed with tears? No, of course not. But it does mean we should provide a non-judgemental space for those who need to do so.
In addition, being a compassionate presence for people who are grieving is probably one of the most important things we can do.
That's why Kessler says that one of the best things to say when someone is in grief is nothing. However, doing this can be one of the most difficult things you can do.
After all, when you see someone in pain and suffering, you want to alleviate and console them. You want to make them better and to fix the situation. However, it's important to remember that grief isn't a problem you need to fix. It's a valid response to intense loss. What's more, it's an experience that we need to honor and respect.
And that's why those three sayings we just discussed are usually so inappropriate. They try to do away with grief and dismiss it. That may be because it's uncomfortable to sit with grief. And to sit with someone who is grieving.
However as Sandi Caplan and Gordon Lang share in their Grief's Courageous Journey: A Workbook, "Grief is neither an illness nor a pathological condition, but rather a highly personal and normal response to life-changing events, a natural process that can lead to healing and personal growth. The transition through this difficult time is a courageous journey."
Bereavement Quotes And Poems For Times Of Grief
It's important to acknowledge grief and allow it to run its natural course, which includes the five stages of grief. According to Kessler and Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't say anything, especially if you do feel called to offer words of consolation and comfort. But even if you want to reach out, it doesn't necessarily mean you know what words to say.
And that's perfectly alright. Sometimes, we just don't know what to say. And if that's the case, here are some inspiring bereavement quotes that can be very helpful in times of grief.
On the one hand, they act as a small window into the experience of grief and offer up a small fraction of what someone may be experiencing. On the other hand, they may give you kind words to offer to your friend, family member or acquaintance.
On The Loss Of The individual
Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, offers this deeply poignant bereavement quote to consider:
"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost."
Schopenhauer reminds us that the death of someone can't be fixed by filling in space with something, or someone, else. For example, when parents lose a child, people say, "You can always have another one." Or, when a wife loses her husband, sure, she can remarry, but that doesn't erase the fact that someone is lost.
So, when you want to offer your condolences to someone in grief, one way to approach the situation is to honor the person who has passed on. For example, you can share your favorite memory of him or her. You can also bring old photographs of them.
Of course, these words and actions can and will never bring the person back, but it does honor the fact that they were absolutely unique and irreplaceable. And while these aspects are what make a loss so profound, they can also provide comfort during times of grief.
Nancy Cobb's little bereavement poem shares as much:
"Remembering is an act of resurrection,
Each repetition is a vital layer of mourning,
In memory of those we are sure to meet again."
On the Unfathomable Nature Of Grief
The author and scholar, C.S. Lewis, shared his own experience of grief in a powerful and personal book, A Grief Observed. But far from being academic, Lewis' writings are honest reflections on loss following the death of his beloved wife, Joy Davidman.
What makes them so powerful is how brutally honest Lewis is. He was a devout Christian. However, he doesn't hide behind trite religious cliches. Instead, he grapples with grief, and how even his devotion could n't diminish grief.
"Talk to me about the truth of religion, and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion, and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."
Why would Lewis, a devout Christian, and erudite scholar, say something so extreme?
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler write in On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, "When a loss hits us, we have not only the particular loss to mourn but also the shattered beliefs and assumptions of what life should be."
Even for Lewis, grief was overwhelming and all-encompassing, and something that all of his former beliefs couldn't explain. This serves as a tender reminder that grief doesn't discriminate and that it can be a powerful force to experience.
Therefore, when someone is grieving, it might be wise not to offer what Lewis calls "consolations of religion" because it might come across as insensitive and that you don't understand.
On Why Living With grief Is So Hard
When the young poet, Kevin Young, lost his father, he searched for a collection of poems that spoke to his grief. However, the annals came up empty. So, Young created his collection of poems on grief called, The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing.
It includes 150 "devastatingly beautiful poems that embrace the pain and heartbreak of mourning," including Young's poems, along with those of other writers.
One of Young's bereavement poems called, "Redemption Song," depicts why the continuation of life makes grief more poignant.
At last the mist,
Heat's haze, we woke
These past weeks with
Has lifted. We find
Ourselves chill, a briskness
We hug ourselves in.
Frost is greying the ground.
Grief might be easy
If there wasn't still
Such beauty - would be far
Simpler if the silver
Maple didn't thrust
It's leaves to flame,
Trusting that spring
Will find it again.
All this might be easier if
There wasn't a song
Still lifting us above it,
If wind didn't trouble
My mind like water.
I half expect to see you
Fill the autumn air
If you would like to offer solace to your loved one, but don't know what to say, sharing bereavement poems like this can be comforting and a way to honor their experience of grief.
On How Grief Can Be Depressing
One of the fives stages of grief is depression, and the American poet, Emily Dickinson, captured this phenomenon in the following bereavement poem called, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes-"
"After great pain, a formal feeling comes -
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs-
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round-
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought-
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone-
This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlives,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-
First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go-"
Why is this poem helpful? For one simple reason: when another person experiences grief, it can be difficult to understand how they feel. What's more, when they move into depression, it can be hard to reach them or relate to them.
However, this poem reminds us that this is not only a normal progression of grief, but also nothing to be alarmed at, or something to try and "fix."
On Being There For Someone In Grief
Poet, Kelly Roper, has the perfect words to offer someone in times of grief with her poem called, Whatever You Need. You can share this entire poem with your friend or family member, or you can simply use her words whenever the time is right:
"Whatever you need,
Whatever we can do.
We want you to know
That we're here for you.
If you just want to talk
Or need a shoulder to cry on,
We want you to know that
We're here for you to rely on.
However lonely you feel,
You definitely are not alone.
We are only as far away
As the nearest phone.
So don't hesitate to call,
No matter what you need.
We'll rush to your side
With all Heaven's speed."
When someone experiences grief as a result of great loss and death, it can be difficult to know what to say. And this is completely normal and understandable.
However, these bereavement quotes and bereavement poems can offer some inspiration and guidance when it comes to offering comfort and solace in times of grief.
If you'd like to understand grief further and how you can support your loved ones when they experience it, here are the four books we mentioned in this article:
- A Grief Observed, by C.S. Lewis
- The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing, by Kevin Young
- Grief's Courageous Journey: A Workbook, by Sandi Caplan
- On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, by Elisabeth Kugler-Ross and David Kessler
Professional Support In Times Of Grief
We've discussed that grief isn't an illness or problem that has to be fixed. However, grief is a powerful experience that challenges the individual deeply. And sometimes, having a supportive professional therapist can help someone move through grief.
The professional therapist doesn't try to help the individual "get over" grief. Instead, they help the individual process and understand their own unique experience of grief - to see that what they are experiencing is safe and normal, even though it is incredibly difficult.
Along with words of comfort through bereavement quotes and bereavement poems, a professional therapist may be helpful during times of grief.
We have discussed words to say when someone is grieving, and combined with your presence, compassionate and non-judgmental presence; you can offer great solace in times of grief.