There can be nothing more heartbreaking than losing a loved one. The pain and devastation it has is profound and those closed to the deceased are left dealing with the grief that follows.
So being there to console and offer sympathy for those who have experienced a loss is important. But it can be so hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one.
You want your words to be comforting and show your support but also respectful. The last thing you want to do is cause any additional hurt or upset.
So if you’re not sure of the right things to say to someone who is grieving then the following guide should help. We’ll look at the best things you can say to offer comfort to those going through a bereavement, examples of how to say them as well as what not to say.
What to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One
Whatever you decide to say to those grieving remember that everyone experiences bereavement differently. So these tips should help you to find the right sort of things to say but it’s important to tailor your words to the individual and keep in mind the type of person they are.
Say You’re Sorry for their Loss
One of the most common ways to express your support and sympathy to those grieving is saying “sorry for your loss”. You may be worried that it’s overused but it’s a simple and effective way to acknowledge the heartbreak they are feeling after losing a loved one.
You don’t need to say more than something like “I’m very sorry for your loss” or “I was so sorry to hear if your moms passing”. It’s just works as a good way to begin talking to someone after a death. See: Alternatives you can use Instead of ‘sorry for your loss’.
Let Them Know You’re Thinking of Them
Similar to saying “sorry for you’re loss” it’s always nice for those grieving to know friends or family are thinking of them. Receiving a card or note saying “you are in my thoughts” reminds them they don’t have to go through the heartache of grief alone.
While it may not seem like a lot it’s small gestures like that which make the difference. Feeling supported and that you have people around to turn to as you go through the grieving process provides comfort during such a difficult time.
Give Them Space to Talk
Having the chance to get your feelings out and talk about what has happened is known to be beneficial. So one of the best things you can say to someone who has lost a loved one is “How are you feeling?” or “would you like to talk?”.
Then just give them the opportunity to talk without interruption. Make it clear you are just there to listen without any judgement.
As everyone experiences and deals with grief differently there will be some rille who don’t want to talk. But many will appreciate the freedom to speak about, share their feelings and reduce the burden they have felt by keeping it all inside.
It can help those grieving to be reminded of how special their departed loved one was. If you knew them well then you may have some special memories you would like to share.
Whilst it may not be able to bring back those who have passed away these stories or anecdotes help the bereaved to remember the wonderful person and the amazing life they had. It doesn’t have to be much but anything that can offer some light amongst the darkness will be beneficial to those who have lost someone.
Reassure Them of their Feelings
When you lose a loved one the huge range of emotions you go through can be overwhelming. The anger, grief, misery, pain and confusion you might feel can be scary.
So when talking to someone after a loss you should make it clear that whatever they are feeling is normal. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Reassure them that it’s natural to feel the way they do and that if they want to talk about it you are here for them.
Offer to Help
Being there for someone can mean different things. But offering them specific help as they deal with a loss is going to hugely appreciated.
This could be anything from taking/picking up their kids from school, doing some chores for them or cooking meals. As they work through the pain of losing a loved one anything that is going to help make that process easier will be gratefully received.
You can ask them if there is something they need help with but remember that some people feel awkward asking for assistance. Instead if you make a direct suggestion – “I know how hard it must be for you at the moment so I thought I could do your grocery shopping for you this week” – they are more likely to feel comfortable saying yes.
Sometimes Silence is Best
You don’t always have to say something. Many people grieving prefer to have company but not necessarily want to talk.
Quiet time together or sharing silence is often as effective as any words you can say. And for the bereaved knowing they have a friend with them who will be there without the need to fill that silence can be more comforting.
READ MORE: What to Say When Someone Dies: The Best Words of Comfort
Examples of What to Say
- I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through but I will always be here for you.
- Whatever support you need during this difficult time I will be there to help.
- There are no words that can help ease your pain but please know you are in my thoughts and prayers.
- Friends and family will surround and bring you the comfort and support you need.
- You always have me for a shoulder to lean or cry on. No matter how you are feeling I am here for you.
- If there is anything you need at all then please don’t hesitate to ask. You’ve suffered such a horrible loss and everyone, including myself, wants to do all we can to help you through this.
- I wish with all my heart there was more I could do to help. I hope you are coping and finding the love and support you need right now.
- I hope the love of those important people in your life and the memories you have can help you get through this tragedy.
READ MORE: Examples of What to Say in a Sympathy Card
What NOT to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One
There are things you should avoid saying as well. The following examples of what not to say could cause offence or added hurt at such a tragic time.
Don’t Talk About ‘Getting Over it’
Any talk of “getting over it” is always going to be offensive. No one ever truly ‘gets over’ the loss of someone.
The grief may subside enough for us to continue living but the memories and the pain is still there, beneath the surface. So if you try to get them to forget their loved one and “move on” then you’re not going to upset them further.
Be Careful With Religion
Religion can be tricky. There is the potential to offend someone who isn’t religious, or even someone who is if you say the wrong thing.
But at the same time if the friends or family of the deceased had a strong faith it might be appropriate to mention that faith in some way.
The best way to go about religion when it comes to talking to those grieving is using your judgement for each individual. Every person will react differently to grief and what you say.
So take your cues from them. If they are clearly a very religious person and it is an important part of their life you are probably safe to mention faith in some way. But be careful and only do so if you feel confident. Otherwise it’s safer to avoid religion generally.
Don’t Set Time Limits
The last thing you want to do is put any pressure on those dealing with the grief of losing someone. So never mention a timeframe for getting over or through the pain.
If you start talking about how long it should or might take to recover you will only make them feel worse. The same applies even if you talk from personal experience.
Grief affects everyone in its own way and that includes how long it lasts. Some people can get through it quickly whereas others need a lot longer. Neither is right or wrong. Just let people take as long as they need and be there for them.
Avoid Saying ‘They’re in a Better Place Now’
Whilst saying something like “they’re in a better place now” or “they are at peace now” is meant to make those suffering feel better it rarely does. Those grieving a loved one won’t feel like they’re in a better place because the place that’s best for them is still with their family and friends.
Statements like these are meant to be comforting but often do the opposite. You’re much better off avoiding saying anything of this nature.
Don’t Say ‘I Know How you Feel’
The problem with saying “I know how you feel” is you don’t. As grief affects everyone in totally different ways you can’t know for sure what they’re going through.
Plus it can be offensive to those grieving to have others saying they know what they’re feeling. It devalues their grief and pain making it seem less important.
These are a few more examples of what you shouldn’t say:
- “God has a plan.”
- “Just give it some time, you’ll feel better.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “Keep busy, it’ll help you to forget.”
- “At least they lived a full life.”
- “Try to move on.”
- “They are in a better place now.”
- “Aren’t you over them yet, it’s been a while now.”
- “This is just like a loss I had.”
Other Ways you Can Help
Aside from what you say to there are other things you can do to be there for someone who has lost a loved one.
Keep in Contact
It’s important that you keep in touch with whoever has lost a loved one. Grief doesn’t just disappear and they will need the support and strength of those closest to them indefinitely.
This doesn’t have to be in person. You can reach out with a text message or email to make sure they’re doing ok. How often you choose to check in with them is down to personal judgement and how well you knew them.
Think of how close you are: the closer the more likely they are to want regular contact. If you don’t know them that well then keep it more casual. But if in doubt then just ask them if they would like you to keep checking in with them every week/2 weeks/month etc.
Don’t Forget Major Dates
Often overlooked when it comes to grief are the important dates afterwards. Birthdays, anniversaries etc. They can be some of the hardest moments for the family and friends left behind.
Remembering the birthday of a loved one after they’ve gone is really difficult. That’s why you might want to make a note of those important dates so you can get in touch around them and be there for the bereaved.
You could send a card or reach out to them. You don’t have to talk about their grief or loss but just chat. It will be beneficial to them to have a friend they can talk to at those difficult moments.
If it’s a specific holiday like a first Christmas after losing someone then you could offer to help out with parts of the celebrations. Maybe go shopping with them, help to decorate etc.
READ MORE: How to Say Happy Birthday After a Loss
If you’d like more help in regards to bereavement and grief then try the following websites and guides:
- Sue Ryder: Supporting Someone Who has Been Bereaved
- Helpguide: Helping Someone Who is Grieving
- Marie Curie: Supporting a Grieving Friend or Relative
Finding the right words to support and console someone who has lost a loved one is incredibly tricky. You want to show them how much you care and that your words help them to feel better.
Hopefully the tips and examples provided here will have helped you with reaching out to those grieving a loss. As long as you are there for them and offering your love and support they will appreciate whatever you say.
Sally Collins is a writer and the founder and owner of Sympathy Message Ideas. Her passion is to help others deal with grief and provide assistance with talking to those grieving. Learn more about Sally.