What to say at a funeral

It’s hard to know what to say at a funeral. There are the typical responses like “I’m sorry for your loss” and “please accept my sympathy.” However, when someone dies, truly heartfelt sentiments bring the most comfort to the grieving. On the other hand, some well-intentioned comments can also be hurtful.

So how do you know the right thing to say when someone dies? People experience loss in different ways, but a few specific things resonate with many people who have lost a loved one.

Don’t compare losses

In an effort to relate, it’s easy to compare your experience with that of a grieving friend. Whether a loss was sudden or expected, the magnitude is no less to the person who is grieving.

Don’t inflict your beliefs on the mourner

Maybe the person who passed away suffered from a long illness —or depending on your religious beliefs, a person’s spirit might have moved on to something better in the afterlife. You might be prone to say something like “at least she is no longer suffering” or “he is in a better place.” Even if the bereaved shares your beliefs, those sentiments usually don’t lessen the weight of their grief in that moment.

Don’t try to predict the future

Maybe someone you consider to be young, lost a child or a spouse. You might be inclined to offer a hopeful statement like “at least you are young,” “you will find someone else,” or “you can try again.” In that moment, the grieving person is not feeling hopeful for the future, and there is a void in their world that no one else can fill. While comments about the future might be well-intentioned, to the grieving person, it can feel as though you are undermining their grief.

Acknowledge the hardship

When someone dies, it’s heartbreaking, and there is nothing that can change that fact. Rather than trying to say something to make the situation better, sometimes it’s best to acknowledge that death is difficult and remind them that you are there for them.

Share a memory

Whether it’s funny or sentimental, you likely have different memories of the person who has passed than the bereaved does. Sharing good memories can not only evoke smiles and laughter, but it also gives the grieving person another memory to hold onto.

Offer kind words about the person

Maybe you don’t have a specific memory to share, but you can share your favorite qualities about the person who passed away. What impact did that person have on your life? What will stand out most in your memory? His genuine spirit? Her big smile?

Be there

Sometimes it’s okay to tell someone that you don’t know what to say. Just show up—your presence speaks volumes.

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