You may wonder what to say when someone dies. If you are attending a funeral, you want your words to comfort the family. What can you say to help ease their pain? Is there a magic combination of words or phrases that will make a difference for them as they struggle through grieving their loss? Let’s look at common ways to comfort grieving families and whether your words can lift and encourage their spirits.
The Expected Can Be Comforting
There is not a one size fits all way to comfort someone who is grieving. However, there are appropriate and expected words used to comfort grieving family and friends. Fairly typical for many parts of the country are these common warm and caring sentiments:
- “I’m sorry for your loss. What you’re going through is so difficult.”
- “You’re in my thoughts daily.”
- “You can call me anytime. I’m here if you need me.”
- “You are in my prayers.”
- “I know this is hard for you. I’m here for whatever you need.”
- “I’ll bring dinner over this week. I know you must be struggling and I want to help.”
- “Give me a hug. I’m here for you.”
These words are heard at funerals daily and for good reason. Just showing up and being there for others is essential. As long as your sentiments are caring, you are saying the “right” thing. Often, your presence says the most.
Your eyes and body language also can communicate the depth of your caring. Other kind and thoughtful gestures such as flowers, cards, or fruit baskets also show you care.
What Not to Say
Just as some words are expected and comforting to those grieving, other sentiments may rub people the wrong way. Sayings that belittle someone’s grieving or criticize the life lived by the deceased or their family and friends are never welcome. Likewise, laying blame or guilt on someone is also never appropriate.
Examples of what NOT to say:
- “At least their suffering is over.”
- “It is what it is. What are you gonna do?”
- “Que sera sera”
- “It was just the right time.”
- “God gained another angel.”
- “Why cry over this one. You have time for more babies.”
- “All things happen for a reason.”
- “You should have tried THIS to help.”
- “Why didn’t you come to me? I could have talked to that doctor.”
- “What did you expect from his lifestyle?”
- “If you had only set boundaries with those kids.”
What About “Deep” Discussion?
A funeral or memorial service is also not usually the place to get into an in-depth discussion about what has happened. Instead, it is the time to be present and show your solidarity with the family and friends of the deceased.
If there is a time to share memories and you’d like to contribute, keep your comments to a couple of minutes in length. You can include stories about the deceased’s time with you or comments about their skills or character.
Any sharing about the deceased’s better qualities is good. However, try to avoid any negative comments or complaints about the deceased. We all have our bad sides, and the memorial or funeral is for remembering what we loved about the individual.
If you tell a friend at the funeral that you will be there for them, try to touch base during the next week. See if there is a good time for you to stop by or call for a few minutes. At that point, let the grieving lead the conversation and try not to overstay your welcome.
Grieving a loss can be an exhausting time for those who need time alone to process emotions. More extroverted friends may need you around more often. Just try to take cues from the person who is grieving before getting into long conversations.
It’s Not What You Say
It is often not so much what you say that helps for someone in the depths of profound grief. Often it can be your ability to listen. When you ask questions and wait for answers while listening, you can hear clues about what the person needs to say. Often, they would like to speak in-depth but are afraid of upsetting others with the details.
A friend who lost a son to a car accident may need to talk through the phone call she received late at night and how she felt talking with the law enforcement officer. A wife who lost a husband to a heart attack in her living room might feel a need to share with someone exactly what it was like to hold him in her arms that last time as he took his last breath so suddenly. Someone losing a parent to a long fight with cancer may want to share about how hard they tried to help their parent hold on.
Whatever is in someone’s heart, if you listen and ask related questions, you give the gift of understanding. We all need people who are willing to listen and care about what we have to say. During grief, the need to talk through difficult emotions and occurrences can heighten. When someone goes through trauma or the shock of losing a loved one, talking through the pain can lighten their load. Listening can help someone process grief and begin the journey forward with renewed hope.
We Can Help
If you have questions about an upcoming funeral you are attending, give us a call. We can help you understand more about what to expect. We work with grieving families and come alongside to create memorable and inspirational times together as they remember their loved one. If you just lost a loved one, contact us to find out how we can help.