Knowing what to say to someone who has just lost a family member or loved one can be hard. Words carry weight, and often people are worried about saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say at all!
Through our experience of speaking with many grieving relatives and friends, we have learnt that saying nothing is usually worse than saying potentially the wrong thing. Kind words at a time of grief are comforting and probably appreciated more than you’d know. So, if you’re unsure, just know it’s better to at least say something…
In traditional western culture, sympathy for someone’s loss if often expressed through kind words of comfort and support, sending a card, flowers (or bringing to a funeral) and in some cases, a charitable donation (where requested by the family).
When someone experiences a bereavement, it can be a very sad, delicate time. Your goal is to show your compassion and concern; whether offering your condolences in person or in writing.
Our advice is to try and keep it simple. Here are some examples of something you may say to the family and friends in a card or at a funeral or wake; to communicate your support:
- I am so sorry for your loss. If I can help with anything, please let me know.
- I wish I had the right words. Just know that I care.
- He/she was a wonderful person.
- You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- I don’t know how you feel but I’m here to help, just say how I can be there for you.
- My favourite memory of your loved one is…
- I love you.
It’s not easy to express sympathy for someone’s loss, and sometimes comments (despite good meaning) can feel insensitive and uncaring.
When someone experiences a bereavement, their emotional state is usually quite high, and the experience can be overwhelming. Try to be compassionate and honest.
Again, our experiences of these situations and speaking at length with bereaved people has also provided insight of what is also NOT helpful to say.
Try to avoid…
- “It’s OK, I know how you are feeling.”
This may seem an empathic statement, but it can often have the opposite effect. Everyone is different when it comes to experiences of loss and grief; don’t assume your experience is/was the same. Try instead to encourage the bereaved to have a unique experience of the loss and communicate to them that you are there if they need to talk about how they feel.
- They’re in a better place.”
Whilst this statement may come from a good place, and one of trying to look at the positives, unless you know for sure that the person who died and the bereaved person both believed in an afterlife, this statement has the potential to be offensive. Just acknowledging that the bereaved may be in pain is enough.
- “At least the death was quick so there wasn’t pain/slow so you had a chance to say goodbye.”
Regardless of the ‘form’ a death takes it is incredibly difficult and the person may just need time to live that grief. You may want to help the person look at the positives, but it can come across insensitive.
- “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better soon.”
Grieving takes time and everyone needs different amounts of it. While you may want to help the bereaved look toward the future, don’t pressure them to “get over it.”
Here are some more helpful articles/sources about offering sympathy for someone’s loss: