What to Say When Someone Dies

Knowing what to say when someone dies can be difficult and uncomfortable.

We want to express our sympathy and condolences but are afraid of saying the wrong thing. When someone experiences the loss of a loved one, he or she might feel overwhelming grief, disorientation and hopelessness. Often, the best support we can give does not come in the form of words but in the generosity of our presence.

Letting your friend know that you care by attending the funeral, visiting, calling and offering a hug can show them that they are not alone in their grief. Sometimes, a touch of the hand and a sympathetic look or hug can communicate most powerfully at a funeral or visitation service while also bringing comfort. When speaking, be sure to use words that are genuine, knowing that some well-intended comments are best avoided.

 

What you can say

Two people comforting each other by  sitting and holding hands

Offer genuine support and companionship

Instead of trying to come up with the right thing to say at a funeral, often times a simple “I’m sorry,” “I love you,” or “I’m here for you” is the best condolence we can offer.

Elderly couple pointing at a wedding photo in photo album.

Share memories and say the name of the person who has passed away

For a person in grief, hearing stories and sharing memories of their loved one can help bring comfort and aid in the healing process. Specifically hearing the name of the person they have lost can be comforting, and can foster healing by bringing the lost person back into the real world for a moment.

Person writing eulogy or obituary.

Remember that your support matters

It can be extremely helpful for a grieving person to know they are not alone, both in the days immediately following a death and in the months and years after it. Offer your sympathy by visiting, signing the guestbook, sending a card, making a call and leaving condolences on an online obituary.

You can also show you care through your actions. Pick up groceries, do household chores or help them organize bills.

What not to say at a funeral

A close up of a white Easter lily.

Don’t say “I understand” or compare losses

Even if you have experienced a similar loss, it’s best not to mention it. The grieving process is acutely personal, and each individual experiences it differently. The best thing to do is focus on the grief of the bereaved, and lend your heartfelt sympathy and condolences without bringing your own experiences into the conversation.

A mother and daughter comfort one another during a ceremony for a veteran.

Don’t begin a sentence with “Well, at least…”

While we might be tempted to say something like “Well, at least you still have your two other children,” or “At least the death wasn’t sudden,” remember that this loss is likely intensely painful no matter the circumstance. To take anything away from that is to diminish the significance of the loss, and that can be hurtful and unappreciated.

A turquoise rosary laying on a leather bible.

Avoid offering simple cliches and certain religious condolences

Though you may share similar beliefs, it’s best to avoid offering condolences like “Everything happens for a reason” or “He/she’s in a better place.” These simple solutions can sometimes feel trite as the griever is confronted with such a magnitude of pain and could be grappling with anger over their loss.

 

Some words are better left unsaid. For some, funerals can be uncomfortable to attend, and sometimes it’s easy to get nervous and end up sounding cold when our words are meant to be compassionate and supportive. It’s hard to know what to say at a funeral or the days and months following. Ultimately, offering your genuine sympathy and support during such a difficult time is what matters most.

Let them know that you haven’t forgotten them, and be a presence they can lean on in times of pain, struggle and confusion. Consider times when you have experienced loss or grief, and think of what was said by others that you appreciated most. This insight can help you comfort those who are now experiencing loss.

 If you would like to express condolences through a guestbook or online obituary, you can find them here.

 

Find an Obituary

 

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