When someone dies, it can be a challenging time in knowing what to say to the bereaved who were close to this person. Some of us might rely on using go-to phrases. Others might not say anything at all out of a fear of saying the wrong thing.
As people grieve in their own way, there is no magical formula or perfect combination of words that will work for every person. But in helping and talking to a grieving person, there are some general things to keep in mind after one of their loved ones has died.
After someone dies, grief takes on distinct forms for loved ones left behind. Each day can look and feel different for each person, and it's normal to feel unsure about what to say when someone is in this difficult time.
Depending on your relationship with the bereaved person, a warm hug or hand to hold can give them physical support. You could also offer sympathy gifts, or your practical support. This can be especially helpful if your friend or family member is struggling with a lack of physical or emotional energy to do simple or complex tasks.
Sometimes however, keeping communication open and providing a listening ear can be a much more meaningful form of support, than the traditional gestures of sending a generic sympathy card, funeral flowers or condolence message.
Examples of where your words of comfort and open communication can provide support when someone dies are:
Asking them to tell you more about the life of the person who passed away
Checking in on them regularly & creating space for them to talk about their feelings
Sharing a fond memory of the person who died
Helping around their house by cleaning or doing a load of laundry for them
Provide meals or bringing over their favourite groceries
Creating your own care package to deliver to their house
Here, your thoughtful gestures can extend beyond the initial stages of grief. Offering ongoing support involves staying connected and attentive to their needs, especially during significant milestones, anniversaries, or moments when the absence of their loved one may be more pronounced. Remembering these dates and continuing to express care demonstrates your enduring commitment to their well-being.
While it's commonplace to check in on a friend who is grieving a recent loss, it's important to still see how they're going months (even years) later. After all, a person's grief doesn't suddenly end at a certain point and they may still want to speak about it. Creating a talking space after someone dies, can allow you to express sympathy as well as allow your loved one to express any sad feelings.
Things like anniversaries or first holidays without the deceased can represent an especially difficult time. Even if it's just a text message, it's important not to forget to check in and offer a loved one support over time.
At this time, you might like to open up a conversation about the person they've lost to honour their life and keep their memory alive. Many find peace in sharing a memory of a loved one, rather than always talking about their sad feelings. Redirecting the conversation towards positive life experiences can help steer away from a prolonged focus on death, allowing for a more uplifting and comforting exchange.
In thinking about what to say when someone dies, you should aim to personalise your sincerest, deepest condolences. Thinking about both the bereaved family member, and the deceased person, can help you provide your loved one with the best support.
This creates a better chance of expressing personalised, deepest sympathy- by recognising the grieving person's relationship with the deceased loved one, as well as their individual loss.
Maintaining this personal approach makes it easier to think what to say when someone dies, and automatically cancels out many general condolence messages you might have otherwise defaulted to.
It's best to be direct, sincere and sensitive. Avoid comparing the death of their loved one, or their feelings to anyone else.
Remember, it's okay to feel uncomfortable or unsure what to say when someone dies. But ultimately, it's still important to acknowledge the death and express condolences, even if it's just a phone call.
If you wait too long or ignore the obvious, it could signal that their pain is too much for you to handle and you could risk losing this person from your life.
Meaningful support can be just creating the space for them to speak about their grief and feelings, and- even if they don't want to discuss it- this effort shows you are there when they need it.
“Your father will be missed greatly and we are very sorry for your loss. Our family is thinking of you and we are here for you. ”
“I don't know how you feel, but I am here to help you through the loss of your friend however I can.”
"I'm so sorry you lost your baby. It's so unfair, and you and your partner have been on my mind."
"I was very sorry to hear about the death of your wife, she seemed like she was very loved."
“I'm usually up late, so please feel free to call me if you can't sleep and need a friend to talk to.”
“I wish I had the right words, but please know that I'm thinking of you and sending you love.”
From here, see where they want to take the conversation. Some people might thank you and move on quickly, while others might want to share more about their feelings or even have a good cry. The best thing you can do to provide full support is follow their lead and not push them one way or another.
At the end of the day, you'll never really know if you've said the right thing when it comes to judging what to say when someone dies. That's okay, and whilst it is important to listen at this time- it's also important that you do say something.
Whether it's to express support to your friend or provide some comforting words- it's important to avoid a handful of cliché sayings that can downplay or disrespect a grieving person's loss.
Minimising their loss by starting any sentence with ‘at least': Grief is unique, and attempting to find silver linings may unintentionally invalidate the depth of their emotions.
Going about as if nothing has happened: Ignoring the reality of their loss can make the grieving person feel isolated and unsupported.
Deciding their grief has gone on for too long: Grieving has no set timeline, and everyone processes loss differently. Allow them the time they need without judgement.
Suggesting everything happens for a reason & that they are in a better place: Such phrases may not align with their beliefs and can be more hurtful than comforting.
Telling them how strong they are (as they may not agree, or they may just be in survival mode): While your intention may be positive, they may not agree or might simply be in survival mode. Acknowledge their pain without imposing expectations.
Centring their grief around you by saying ‘I know how you feel': Each person's experience of loss is unique, so claiming to understand completely may unintentionally invalidate their individual journey.
Presuming to know what the deceased would've wanted for them: Everyone's relationship is different, and making assumptions can be insensitive.
Sharing any religious or spiritual guidance that may not align with their beliefs: Respect their individual perspectives and beliefs during this sensitive time.
You might have the best intentions when you tell them you know how they feel or try to fix their pain with solutions, but when someone dies it's essential to recognise that everyone grieves in their own way.
The most helpful thing you can do is create an open and supportive space for them to share memories, and express whatever it is they're feeling in the aftermath of the death.
We're here to support you through this difficult time. Our range of services are designed to help you in various aspects, whether you're planning a funeral, applying for probate, or getting started on writing your Will. Our caring team is available to address any questions you may have, providing continuous support throughout the entire provess.