It’s not easy to know what to say when someone dies. Losing a loved one can be one of life's most challenging experiences, and everyone’s reaction to a bereavement is different. Finding just the right words to express your condolences, and offer support, can be difficult.
We’ve collected some tips you can use when speaking with someone who has lost a loved one.
One of the simplest ways to provide comfort to a bereaved person is by showing that you understand and share their sadness. Simply saying ‘I am so sorry for your loss’ is an effective way to show your empathy. Adding ‘I am here for you’ expresses your willingness to support the grieving person. You can also acknowledge the enormity of their loss by saying something like, ‘I can't imagine how hard this must be for you.’ These words may seem obvious to some, but can help your loved one know that you’re there.
For more things you could say when someone dies, here’s a handy article from SunLife.
Share personal memories
When a loved one dies, it’s quite common to worry that they might be forgotten. Sharing personal memories and stories can be reassuring to grieving relatives. Talking about the happy times you shared together can raise a smile amidst the sadness. Speaking about how their loved one had a positive impact on your life can bring comfort. Stories like these help keep memories alive.
Sometimes not saying anything, but listening, is the most helpful thing you can do. Offer a friendly ear to let the person grieving talk about their feelings. Whether they’re angry, sad, or confused, simply listening can be a huge support. Don’t feel that you need to offer answers or advice - just being there to hear them can help.
Offer help and support
In times of loss, practical help can be invaluable, particularly if you’re close to the bereaved. By taking care of everyday chores you’re giving the person grieving time and space to focus on their feelings. Be specific in your offers of help rather than asking a question that gives the person grieving an opportunity to just say yes or no. For example, ‘I’m off to the supermarket, what do you need?’ is much better than saying ‘Let me know if you need anything’ or ‘Do you need anything from the supermarket’.
Reassure the person grieving that your offers of help are for the weeks and months ahead, and make an effort to check in regularly to see how they’re doing or if they need anything. Grief can be a long journey, and they’ll take some comfort in knowing that, in the long term, you’re there to support them.
Different cultures have unique traditions and customs related to bereavement and mourning. The Conversation has a helpful article which discusses how people of different faiths and backgrounds deal with grief.
What not to say when someone dies
While knowing the right thing to say when someone dies is important, knowing what not to say is equally as important. Avoid saying things that could sound dismissive, make assumptions about how they feel, or centre the conversation on you. Try your best to respond to someone’s body language and read the room, as it’s possible they won’t want to talk much at all.
Here are a few phrases you might want to steer clear of:
● Everything happens for a reason
● Time is a great healer
● I know exactly how you feel
Make a difference
Knowing exactly what to say when someone has died can be challenging, but avoiding speaking to someone who has suffered a loss can be isolating for a bereaved person. By reaching out you can help make them feel less alone in their loss. And if you can show empathy, listen and offer support, you could provide a light in a time of darkness.