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Never Say These 5 Words at a Funeral, Expert Warns

An etiquette expert explains how certain words can hurt someone who is grieving.

If you're attending a funeral, you're in an emotionally fraught atmosphere. You are likely grieving, or at least supporting others around you who are experiencing deep grief while having to circulate in a social environment. In order to avoid making an already painful situation worse for all involved, there are five words you should never say at a funeral. Read on to find out what not to say—and how to offer comfort instead.

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Never say "I know how you feel" to anyone at a funeral.

closeup of a funeral burial

"Funerals are just awful for anyone to either attend or be forced to arrange," says August Abbott, PhD, a relationship counselor and etiquette expert on JustAnswer, who has spent 40 years teaching etiquette classes. Don't make the event any worse by saying, "I know how you feel." She acknowledges that many people make this common mistake, but notes, "Unless it's also your relative in that casket and despite you perhaps having lost the equivalent loved one, you diminish the mourner's pain and suffering the minute you utter those words."

Abbott adds, "Losing someone is losing a piece of our heart, and just as each of us are snowflakes—everyone uniquely different, no two the same—we each suffer the pain of losing that piece of our heart in our own unique way."

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Share a personal account if you're invited to.

closeup of casket with flowers

In some cases, a mourner might ask you for advice on how to overcome the depths of grief. If you've been invited to do so, you can and should share a personal account. "If someone asks how you got through something similar, be forthcoming," Abbott recommends. "Tell them what you tried that worked or didn't work."

But don't claim that your approach to overcoming grief is the only way: "Be sure you don't imply that they have to do or not do this or that," she says.

Offer physical touch when appropriate.

Woman at coffin with roses
Syda Productions

If a mourner at a funeral would welcome physical touch, offer it sincerely and emphatically. "A touch to the shoulder, a truly meant hug, or sharing stories until both of you are sobbing are all healthy," Abbott notes.

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Encourage outward expressions of grief as a necessary step toward healing.

A closeup of flowers atop a funeral casket outdoors, things you should never lie to kids about

At a funeral, demonstrations of emotions are both normal and cathartic. In order to create an atmosphere of comfort and set the stage for healing, Abbott advises funeral attendees to express grief openly, and encourage other mourners to do the same without fear of judgement.

"What is not healthy is pretending it doesn't hurt or apologizing for showing one's pain," she says. "Encourage them to be honest with themselves first about the pain and whether they express it in private or right out in the open because there is nothing to be ashamed of. What matters is expressing it."

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Alesandra Dubin
Alesandra Dubin is a lifestyle editor and writer based in Los Angeles. Read more
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