When someone dies, it can be hard to know what to say to those who were close to them. 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 there are some general things to keep in mind.
Consider how you can comfort someone who is grieving
Grief takes on distinct forms for everyone, with each day looking and feeling different for each person. It’s normal to feel strange or awkward when trying to find the right way to support someone experiencing grief. Depending on your relationship with the person, a warm hug or hand to hold can give them physical comfort. It can be particularly helpful to give them your time when they don’t have the physical or emotional energy to do simple or complex tasks.
You might like to comfort someone experiencing loss by:
Asking them to tell you more about the person who passed away
Checking in on them regularly
Sharing a fond memory of the person who died
Helping around their house by cleaning or doing a load of laundry for them
Bringing over their favourite home-cooked meal or groceries
Creating your own care package to deliver to their house
While it’s commonplace to check in on someone who is grieving a recent loss, it’s important to still see how they’re going months (even years) later. After all, grief doesn’t suddenly end at a certain point. If the loss was a while ago, you might like to open up a conversation about the person they’ve lost to honour their life and keep their memory alive.
Focus on their individual loss and experience
To find the appropriate way to offer your condolences for someone who has passed away, you should aim to personalise what you say to recognise the grieving person’s relationship with the deceased and their individual loss. It’s best to be direct, sincere and sensitive.
Remember, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable but it’s still important to acknowledge the loss. 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.
Here are some supportive ways you can acknowledge their loss:
“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 is follow their lead and not push them one way or another.
Steer clear of upsetting phrases and behaviour
At the end of the day, you’ll never really know if you’ve said the right thing to someone experiencing loss – and that’s okay. While it’s important that you do say something, there are a handful of cliché sayings and fallback phrases that can downplay or disrespect a grieving person’s loss.
When in doubt, it’s best to avoid:
Minimising their loss by starting any sentence with ‘at least’
Going about as if nothing has happened
Deciding their grief has gone on for too long
Suggesting everything happens for a reason
Telling them how strong they are (as they may not agree, or they may just be in survival mode)
Centring their grief around you by saying ‘I know how you feel’
Presuming to know what the deceased would’ve wanted for them
Sharing any religious or spiritual guidance that may not align with their beliefs
You might have the best intentions when you tell them you know how they feel or try to fix their pain with solutions, but 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 feel whatever it is they’re feeling.
Our team are here to help
We’re here to support you through this difficult time. Our services can help you with planning a funeral, applying for probate, or getting started on writing your Will. For any questions you might have, our caring team is here to support you throughout the process.