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It is never easy to find the right words to comfort those left behind when a loved one passes. Though it might be tempting to just stay away, it’s always better to let them know you’re there. However, a standard one-size-fits-all message won’t do; always consider the mourners’ personalities and specific situations in mind. Here are some recommended words when you’re thinking of what to say to comfort your friends or families.
What to Say When Someone Dies
- “I feel your pain.” Do not say, “I know how you feel.” Show empathy, but don’t claim to understand what they are going through. Everyone grieves in his/her own way. You just want to make them feel that they are not alone.
- “How about a hug?” Not everyone is touchy-feeling and a hug won’t take all the pain away, but to the right people, a hug can be just what they need.
- “I’m sorry for your loss.” This is a simple, honest and direct statement that is appropriate, especially if you don’t know what to say. Just show up and tell them you care.
- “I’m here for you.” The best thing you can do for people who are going through grief is just to offer to be there and help them whenever they need it.
- “I’ll bring you some meat loaf next Wednesday.” Instead of asking, “What should I do to help”, offer to do something specific, even just as a small gesture. This is better than “Let me know what you need,” because more often than not, people in grief don’t know what they need, either.
- “Would you like to talk about your loved one?” Don’t be afraid to ask about the person who passed. It’s natural for a grieving individual to think of their loved one, even months after they have passed. Pretending they never existed won’t help – it’s much more comforting to the mourners to know that others remember their loved one, too.
- “This must be so hard for you.” Help them feel less alone. Even if you don’t understand their pain, acknowledging their difficulties can help them feel less isolated. This sentence is highly recommended if you don’t know what to say when someone dies.
- “I love you.” Losing a loved one can make others feel like there is no one left to love and care for them. Make sure to remind them that there will always be more people who are more than willing to make them feel loved.
- “I am praying (or fasting) for you.” Religious differences aside, it won’t hurt to comfort the mourners by reminding them that you are willing to pray for them on their behalf. Often, it can be a source of strength, especially when they are feeling weak and hopeless.
Rules of Expressing Your Sympathy
Follow these guidelines when you express your sympathy.
- Give the mourners time to grieve on their own and save your condolences for the wake or funeral unless you are extremely closely related.
- Keep your conversation brief and don’t be dramatic.
- Be sensitive to whether they look too tired or upset to talk, or whether they need you to stay with them.
- Feel free to send a sympathy letter or card.
- Sending an email is acceptable, but don’t expect them to reply anytime soon.
- Never send a text message as this may come off as impersonal and cold.
- Sending condolences via social networking sites is okay only if the mourners have already posted about the death.
What Not to Say When Someone Dies
- Don’t compare! Never bring up your own losses, no matter how recent. Focus on the mourners and their feelings, not yours. Allow them to feel their grief without feeling guilty or insecure.
- “I don’t know what to say.” This will not help anyone feel better. During these times, there is often not much to say at all – it’s better to be quiet and just let the mourners know you are there for them. This sentence is not advised when you wonder what to say when someone dies.
- “He/she’s in a better place.” Religious and philosophical differences aside, saying this will not change the fact that the mourners have lost someone dear to them.
- “You’re so brave/strong.” This only puts unnecessary pressure on the mourners to act a certain way. Instead of allowing themselves to feel freely, they might feel the need to put on a brave face, even if they probably feel weak and hopeless.
- “She/he lived a full life” or “It was too soon.” Again, this does not change the fact that the mourners are grieving their loss. Instead, ask them their favorite stories about the person and help them realize that they will always have their memories to hold on to.
- “There’s a reason for everything” or “God chose them/It was their time/They brought this upon themselves.” These statements do not bring any comfort– and frankly, they’re all insensitive. Do not imply that the person deserved the death, no matter you express in what manner.
- “Are you okay?” or “How do you feel?” This might sound caring, but don’t ask leading questions that put pressure on the mourners to “be okay”. Allow them to not be okay, and be there if they want to talk.
- “Call me if you need anything” or “I’m here if you need anything.” This is not a good choice about what to say when someone dies. Don’t put that extra burden on people to come up with something they can ask you for. Instead, be proactively supportive – suggest simple things you can do for them to ease their burden.