What To Say When Someone Dies

Knowing what to say to someone who's lost a loved one can be difficult.

We want to comfort a grieving friend and express our sympathy and condolences but are afraid of saying the wrong thing. When someone experiences a loss, he or she might feel overwhelming grief, disorientation and hopelessness. Often, the best support we can give does not come in the form of words but in the generosity of our presence.

Letting your friend know that you care by attending the funeral, visiting, calling and offering a hug can show them that they are not alone in their grief. Sometimes, a touch of the hand and a sympathetic look or hug can communicate most powerfully at a funeral or visitation service while also bringing comfort. When speaking, be sure to use words that are genuine, and know that some well-intended comments are best avoided.

You can say things like:

  • “I’m really sorry. I know this is painful.”
  • “I was so sad to hear about your mother.”
  • “Your brother was really special. I know this is hard.”
  • “I want you to know that I’m here for you. Call me anytime.”
  • “You’re in my thoughts.”
  • “My heart aches for you.”
  • “I love you.”

Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

Acknowledge the situation as soon as you hear

As soon as you hear that a friend or family member has lost a close loved one, call, write a note or visit. Don't put it off, and don't worry about being eloquent. Simply pick up the phone, a pen or your car keys, and say what's in your heart. Just show you care—your good intentions will be seen on your face and heard in your voice.

Be kind and sincere

Instead of trying to come up with the right thing to say, a sweet smile, a warm hug and a kind statement are often the best condolence. You can offer your sincere sympathy by leaving a memory or condolence on an online obituary, attending the funeral, signing the guestbook, sending a card or gift, or emailing or calling your friend.

Two people comforting each other by  sitting and holding hands 

Share memories and be a shoulder to cry on

For a person in grief, hearing stories and sharing memories of their loved one can bring comfort and help in the healing process. Specifically, hearing the name of the person they have lost can be comforting and foster healing by bringing the lost person back into the real world for a moment. Share what you remember and listen when they share their memories. Ask good, sensitive questions and give your friend the opportunity to talk. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is simply sit, offer a tissue and listen.

Be helpful

It's said that actions speak louder than words. Instead of saying, "Let me know how I can help," consider a concrete act of service. Take your friend a couple of bags of groceries, tidy up the house for them or help sort their mail. Babysitting and pet sitting are excellent ways to be helpful. So is washing someone's car, making them dinner, running errands or taking out their trash.

Elderly couple pointing at a wedding photo in photo album.

Offer companionship

Grief can feel isolating. Offering companionship is a wonderful way to lessen the loneliness and stay connected. Ask your friend to coffee or tea in the afternoon or offer to stay the night. Invite your friend to take a walk with you or spend an hour with them at the cemetery or somewhere in nature. You can also offer to go to church or synagogue with your friend. If that's not what they like to do, ask them to a movie, a museum or an outdoor festival. The point is simply to spend some time with your grieving friend if they're up for it.

Follow up

It can be extremely helpful for a grieving person to know they are not alone in the days immediately following a death. It can be even more so in the weeks and months that follow, when the rush of support subsides but difficult emotions can persist. As time continues, let your grieving friend know you haven't forgotten them. Visit your friend at their home or invite them to yours, ask your friend to attend an event, or just check in via phone or email. Continue to be a presence they can lean on in times of pain, struggle and confusion.

Remember important dates

Holidays, important dates and certain occasions can bring up lots of emotion for someone who is grieving. Remember the anniversary of their loved one's death or mark a holiday like Mother's Day, Father's Day or Christmas with flowers. Send your friend an email or card to let them know you are thinking of them and their loved one on that day. These gestures say so much more than "I remember."

A close up of a white Easter lily.

What not to say at a funeral

Some things are better left unsaid. For some, funerals can be uncomfortable to attend, and sometimes it’s easy to get nervous and end up sounding cold when our words are meant to be compassionate and supportive. It’s hard to know what to say at a funeral or the days and months following. Instead of worrying about saying the wrong thing, a simple "I'm so sorry" or "I'm here for you" are always appropriate. Ultimately, offering your genuine sympathy and support during such a difficult time is what matters most.

A mother and daughter comfort one another during a ceremony for a veteran.

Don’t say “I understand” or compare losses

Even if you have experienced a similar loss, it’s best not to mention it. Don't say “I know just how you feel.” You can't know how others feel when they grieve, as the process is acutely personal, and each individual experiences it differently. The best thing to do is focus on the grief of the bereaved, and lend your heartfelt sympathy and support without bringing your own experiences into the conversation.

Don’t begin a sentence with “Well, at least …”

While we might be tempted to say something like “Well, at least you still have your two other children,” or “At least the death wasn’t sudden,” remember that this loss is likely intensely painful no matter the circumstance. To take anything away from that is to diminish the significance of the loss, and that can be hurtful and unappreciated.

A turquoise rosary laying on a leather bible.

Don’t say “She’s in a better place”

Put yourself in the survivor’s shoes. Though a mother’s pain may be gone, her daughter may not want to hear that she is “better off” dead. Likewise, the parents of a child, even an unborn one who has passed, may react negatively if it’s inferred that their precious one didn't matter. The comment “He’s in a better place” can wound the loved ones left behind. They may feel that the only “better” place for Grandpa is close by, sitting in his plaid recliner and watching the evening news.

Avoid offering simple cliches and certain religious condolences

Though you may share similar beliefs, it’s best to avoid offering condolences like “Everything happens for a reason” or “He/she’s in a better place.” These simple solutions can sometimes feel trite, as the bereaved is confronted with a magnitude of pain and could be grappling with anger over their loss.

As the weeks and month roll by, continue to be a gentle, dependable presence that can be counted on in moments of sorrow and struggle. Consider times when you've experienced loss or grief, and think of what was said by others that you appreciated most. This insight can help you comfort and support someone who's experienced a loss. You may also want to send flowers or a gift and have a look through our grief library.

If you'd like to express condolences through one of our online obituaries, click the button below.

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