What Not to Say

Diana Beebe, Mermaids Don't Do Windows, MDDW, Diana Beebe's Blog, science fiction, fantasyWhen a person suddenly passes away, our first instinct is to ask why or how it happened. I’d like for the world to rethink that line of questioning. If you listen closely to the person giving the news, he or she will probably tell that—if he or she wants you to know.

“The person passed away because of ________.”

However, if the news is presented like this: “The person passed away.” Then, don’t ask for more, please.

As a fairly new member of the club that no one asks to join (as my dear friend from college described it when she met me at the door), I’ve been blown away by the love and support and friendship that continues to pour my way.

But for all the love and the joy returning to my days, every once in a while I get blind sided by someone who says something like this:

“Let’s get together. You can tell me all the details of what happened.”

Uh. No.

What the heck? Now I’m replaying the events in my head. I don’t need to do that. I don’t need to have that conversation with you or with anyone. If you weren’t there, if I didn’t tell you, if I didn’t put it in a notice, then maybe you shouldn’t ask that of me or of any person whose loved one passed away.

“Well, I was really surprised.”

Yeah, me, too. Thanks.

So, that means you can ask me to tell you “all the details” of how and why my husband passed away? Because you’re my friend and you were surprised. Nope.

Why is this even a question allowed to be asked by civilized people?

Does knowing why or how make your day better? Does it improve you as a person?

Is it worth dredging up someone’s grief to satisfy your curiosity?

I KNOW this person meant well and doesn’t have a malicious molecule anywhere. But those seemingly friendly words flayed me.

Before you ask someone to tell you all the details, think about his or her feelings. You don’t know what that person went through–whether it was sudden, drawn out, traumatic, peaceful, or even horrific. Or all of the above. Or not really any of them.

Please, don’t ask that person to relive the events.

Say this instead: “I don’t know what to say.” I’ll take that over the other any day. It’s honest and not intrusive.

You don’t have to say anything. Just be a friend. Tell me about your day. Ask me about gardening or chickening (Mockingbird’s new word) or writing. Tell me a funny story. Remember something about my husband that you liked. I’m not afraid to talk about him.

Let me continue healing. Let me find a new normal. Let me continue being strong.

~Diana

25 comments on… “What Not to Say”


  1. Richard Beebe


    I understand, Diana. My tears still come in private too, like right now. Love you.

  2. Very well said. I think it’s hard for people to not ask because they may be curious. Many people share all the details of everything they are afflicted with while others prefer to keep details of things they are working with private. I am sure that the people who ask mean no harm, but don’t realize that moving forward doesn’t include reliving the experience over and over. You have very gracefully and lovingly addressed that with this post.

  3. Very sorry for your loss. I really do not know what to say… because there are no words. Except I feel sorry.

  4. Diana, posts like these are so important. It’s impossible to know what to say until you’ve been through something like that. During hard times of my life, people have said inconsiderate things, without meaning to. So, I think educating people you love on this is such an important thing, albeit hard to write about.

    Love you, and think about you often. If you ever need some fresh puns and coffee, to exchange story ideas, to just get together and write, let me know. <3


    • Diana Beebe


      Thanks, Dani. I’m really grateful for you–you’re an amazing person in so many ways. I hope you know this about yourself. Love you, too! Yes, we need to get together sometime. <3

  5. I’ve always thought the best things to do in crises like this are to listen and express sympathy. That’s it.

    I think we want details and explanations to make sense of it all, but life and death don’t always make sense. In the end, it’s the person who mourns and the person being mourned that matter.

    And once again, I’m so glad I got to meet your husband. I still recall him lighting up when he saw you.


    • Diana Beebe


      That memory just melted my heart, Julie. I’m glad you got to meet Steve, too.

  6. Beautifully said, Diana. There are no words that truly comfort in a time of mourning. Just know that I am here with you and I love you.

  7. Ditto Julie’s comment. Thanks for sharing here. Your strength and grace are beautiful.

  8. Thanks for the education, Sis. I can only imagine what life is like in that situation, and to quote a friend of mine, when annoyed with something I said, he would say, “I want to punch you in the face.” It would always make me laugh first and then question my initial statement/question. Maybe you can adopt your own statement along those lines…like “I got a knife and I’ll cut you long and deep,” when asked these thoughtless questions…That would make anyone ponder their words. I make light, but I love you and wish you the best new normal possible! ?


    • Diana Beebe


      Thanks for that, brother. ? You made me laugh. I’m a writer, so that should be fair warning. 😉
      Usually, “I’m not having that conversation,” is enough for most people. Thankfully.


  9. Lynn Balli


    Being a person who always wants to “fix” things by saying something to maybe fill that uncomfortable silence I appreciate your perspective and hopefully will take a moment to pause before I speak next time I’m in a similar situation.

    Your husband was a really great friend to me many many moons ago. I was so sad to hear the news. Even though you don’t know me, please know that you and your girls are in my prayers as you find your new normal.


    • Diana Beebe


      Oh, Lynn! Even though we didn’t know each other really, I knew of you. He adores you (still!)! He always talked fondly of you and enjoyed catching up with you when you two found the time. Thank you for the kind words.

  10. Having been there myself, sometimes you need to talk, but others that’s the last thing you want to do. A really good friend will be able to tell the difference, and will wait for you to broach the subject if you need to. That friend will also have wine and chocolate and funny movies available if all you want to do is be quiet in the presence of someone who cares.

    Hugs.

  11. Oh Diana, you know you’re in my thoughts and my heart, always. I’m here for you if you ever need to talk or laugh or whatever. Stay strong, my friend because you’re totally awesome and I love you.


    • Diana Beebe


      Tameri, that means so much! I’m so grateful for our friendship! I love you, too!

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