Losing a loved one is an emotional and overwhelming experience. Finding the right words to say during these difficult times can be challenging. You may worry about saying something that could worsen the situation, or perhaps you’re at a loss for words entirely. Even those who regularly talk to grieving people wonder what to say when someone passes away. There is no formula that is always correct.
However, this blog will guide you through deciding how to handle this delicate process, offering suggestions on what to say and how to offer your condolences in a meaningful way. Whether you’re attending a funeral, sending a sympathy message or card, or offering support in person, we’ll help you navigate these sensitive conversations with compassion and care.
Speak From the Heart. Avoid Clichés.
Phrases like “They’re in a better place now” or “Everything happens for a reason” may seem comforting, but they can often come across as insensitive.
In an effort to offer comfort, people often resort to well-worn phrases. While the intention is usually good, these expressions can inadvertently cause more harm than good. They can come across as dismissive or even judgmental.
Instead, stick to what you genuinely feel and believe; authenticity is key. When you’re genuine in your condolences, it shows. Authenticity resonates with people and provides comfort that clichés simply can’t offer. If you’re at a loss for words, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” is often the most meaningful thing you can say when someone dies.
Here’s a deeper look at some common phrases to steer clear of and what to say instead:
Phrases to Avoid and “What to Say” Instead:
Consider the following phrases from the Funeral Consumers Alliance on what not to say. We’ll also offer our version of what words you could say instead.
The Strength Assessment
What Not to Say: “You’re so strong; I could never handle this as well as you.” This might seem like a compliment, but it can actually put the grieving person on a pedestal and make them feel like they can’t express their genuine emotions.
What to Say: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.”
How You SHOULD Feel
What Not to Say: “You shouldn’t feel like that.” Telling someone how they should or shouldn’t feel adds pressure to suppress their emotions. Your role is to listen, even when it’s uncomfortable for you.
What to Say: “It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling. I’m here to listen.”
I Get You SO Completely
What Not to Say: “I know just how you feel.” Even if you’ve experienced a similar loss, every grieving process is unique. Claiming to know exactly how someone feels can come across as presumptuous.
What to Say: “Your grief experience is your own, and I respect that.”
I Know What Helps
What Not to Say: “Time heals all wounds.” While time may ease the pain, it won’t eliminate it. This phrase can minimize the enduring impact of the loss.
What to Say: “I know words can’t replace what you’ve lost, but I’m here for you.”
They Had Many Years
What Not to Say: “She lived a long life; you were lucky to have her for so long.” Regardless of how long someone lived, their absence leaves a void that can’t be filled by counting years.
What to Say: “I know she meant a lot to you, and she’ll always have a special place in your heart.”
I Know What’s Best
What Not to Say: “It was for the best.” This phrase assumes a level of acceptance the grieving person may not have reached yet. It’s not your place to decide when they should come to terms with the loss.
What to Say: “I can’t speak to what’s best, but I’m here to support you as you cope.”
Judging the Level of Tragedy
What Not to Say: “It could be worse.” Comparing tragedies doesn’t lessen the pain and can make the grieving person feel like their loss isn’t significant enough to warrant their feelings.
What to Say: “Your pain is valid, and I’m here to support you through it.”
I Know What God Did Here
What Not to Say: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” This implies that the loss is a test of faith, which can be troubling for someone in grief.
What to Say: “I’m here for you, no matter how complex or confused you may be feeling..”
There are Billions of People On This Earth
What Not to Say: “You’ll find someone else.” This dismisses the uniqueness of the lost relationship and can feel like a rush to move on.
What to Say: “The love you had for each other was unique and can never be replaced.”
Stay Strong. You Don’t Have Time to Grieve
What Not to Say: “Be strong; your family needs you.” This adds an extra burden on the grieving person, who is already struggling to cope.
What to Say: “Take the time you need to grieve; I’m here for you.”
What’s the Problem Here?
What Not to Say: “Don’t take it so hard.” This minimizes the significance of the loss. A better approach would be to say, “I know this is tough to go through.”
What to Say: “I can see you’re hurting, and I’m here to support you.”
Tears are Bad
What Not to Say: “I don’t want to make you cry.” Tears are a natural part of the grieving process. Being there as a supportive presence can be healing.
What to Say: “It’s okay to let it out; I’m here for you.”
I Pity You
What Not to Say: “You poor thing.” Pity can be destructive and undermine the grieving person’s self-esteem.
What to Say: “You’re going through a lot, and it’s okay to ask for help.”
Many of the “What Not to Say” examples above can feel hurtful and cause more pain for a grieving person. By being mindful of your words, you can offer meaningful support to those grieving alongside you.
It’s all about being sensitive, respectful, and open to the emotional needs of each individual, including yourself.
When You’re Hurting Too: What to Say to Those Grieving With You
Navigating grief is complex, especially when you’re not the only one hurting. When a loss impacts a family, a circle of friends, or a community, you may find yourself both offering and needing emotional support.
Here’s how to approach this delicate situation, complete with examples of what to say and what not to say.
Acknowledge the Shared Loss
Recognizing that you’re all on this emotional journey together can be comforting.
- What to Say: “We’re both missing him so much right now.”
- What Not to Say: “I can’t believe you’re not as upset as I am.”
Be Mindful of Individual Grief
Everyone grieves differently, and it’s important to respect that.
- What to Say: “Take all the time you need; we each have our own way of coping.”
- What Not to Say: “You should be over it by now.”
Sharing fond memories can be a healing experience for everyone.
- What to Say: “Remember the time she surprised us with that trip? She had such a zest for life.”
- What Not to Say: “I don’t want to talk about the good times; it makes me miss her more.”
Offer Mutual Support
In times like these, support is a two-way street.
- What to Say: “I’m here for you, just as I know you’re here for me.”
- What Not to Say: “I’m too overwhelmed to deal with your grief right now.”
Be Open to Emotional Moments
Grief can trigger a range of emotions; being open to experiencing them is crucial.
- What to Say: “It’s okay to feel how you’re feeling. We’re in this together.”
- What Not to Say: “You shouldn’t be laughing at a time like this.”
Avoid Comparing Pain
Comparing levels of grief can be divisive and unhelpful.
- What to Say: “We’re each feeling this loss in our own way, and that’s okay.”
- What Not to Say: “You were closer to her, so you must be hurting more.”
Lean on Rituals or Traditions
Shared rituals can offer a structured way to express grief and honor the deceased.
- What to Say: “Would you like to light a candle with me tonight in his memory?”
- What Not to Say: “I don’t see the point in these rituals.”
Check in Regularly
Grief is a long-term process; regular check-ins can offer sustained support.
- What to Say: “How are you holding up? I’m here whenever you want to talk.”
- What Not to Say: “You still haven’t moved on?”
By being sensitive, respectful, and open, you can create a supportive environment for everyone who is grieving. This allows each person, including yourself, to grieve authentically and find comfort in one another.
What to Say to Family at a Funeral or Memorial Service
Attending a funeral or memorial service can be a profoundly personal experience, not just for the grieving person but also for you as a guest. Finding the right words to express sympathy can be challenging, especially when navigating other people’s emotions. Here are some suggestions on what to say and what not to say to the family during this difficult time.
What to Say:
- “I’m so sorry for your loss. Your [family member] was such a wonderful person and will be deeply missed.”
- “Please accept my heartfelt condolences. If you need anything, even just a phone call, I’m here for you.”
- “I want to express my deepest sympathies for what you’re going through, but I can’t find the right words to express how sorry I am. Please know you’re in my thoughts.”
- “I have such wonderful memories of your [loved one]. They were truly a bright light in so many lives.”
- “I know this is a dark time for you, but I’m here to offer my deepest condolences and practical support.”
What Not to Say:
- “They’re in a better place now.” This can come across as dismissive of the person’s grief.
- “At least they’re not suffering anymore.” While true, this might not offer comfort to the bereaved person.
- “Everything happens for a reason.” This can seem insensitive and may not align with the grieving family’s beliefs.
- “You’ll get through this; you’re strong.” This puts pressure on the grieving individual to suppress their emotions.
- “Let me know if you need anything.” While well-intentioned, this is vague and puts the onus on the grieving person to reach out.
Additional Tips to Show Care to a Grieving Friend or Family Members
Sympathy Cards and Notes
If you’re unable to attend the service, sending a heartfelt sympathy card or condolence message can also offer comfort. For example, you could write a sympathy message or condolence card something like this:
“Dear [Family’s Name],
I was deeply saddened to hear about the loss of your [loved one’s relationship to the person you’re writing, e.g., mother, father, sister, brother]. I know words can hardly provide the comfort you need right now, but please know that I am here for you during this difficult time.
Your [loved one] was a wonderful person, full of kindness and warmth. I will always cherish my favorite memories of spending summers at their house [or whatever memory seems appropriate]. They were a bright light in the lives of everyone who knew them, and they will be deeply missed.
I understand that this is a dark time for you and your family. I’m here for you if you need someone to talk to, even if it’s just a phone call to hear a familiar voice.
I wish I could find comforting words to ease your pain, but sometimes there are no right words, only feelings of sorrow and empathy.
If you need any practical support, whether running errands or taking care of things around the house, please don’t hesitate to ask. I want to be here for you in any way that I can.
Wishing you strength and peace during this hard time.
With heartfelt condolences,
Sending funeral flowers is a traditional way to express condolences and show your deepest sympathy to the grieving family.
Accompanying the flowers with a heartfelt sympathy note can add a personal touch that speaks volumes. This simple act can offer comfort and serve as a visual tribute to the deceased person. If you’re unsure what to write in a sympathy note, consider including sympathy quotes that resonate with you and the person grieving.
The key is to be genuine and thoughtful, as the wrong thing said—even with the best intentions—can sometimes add to the emotional burden.
Text Messages and Phone Calls
In today’s digital age, expressing sympathy doesn’t always require face-to-face interaction. Sometimes, a text message or a phone call can offer much-needed solace, especially when you find it hard to find words to say in person.
Whether it’s a close friend or a distant family member experiencing grief, a simple “I’m sorry to hear about your loss” can go a long way.
If you’re a best friend or someone very close, offering a listening ear for a few hours on the phone can provide a safe space for the person grieving to share their feelings and happy memories of their loved one.
Be Mindful of Timing
When a family is in mourning, they likely receive a flood of sympathy messages, condolence emails, and phone calls. While your intentions are good, overwhelming them with communication can be counterproductive.
Timing is crucial. If you’re a friend or family member, it might be best to send a condolences email initially and then follow up with a phone call after some time has passed. This gives the grieving parent or individual time to process their emotions without feeling overwhelmed. Your aim should be to offer a supportive presence without adding to their stress.
By being considerate and thoughtful in expressing your sympathy, you can offer meaningful support to those navigating the complexities of grief. Whether through flowers, text messages, or just being a listening ear, your actions can make a significant difference during a challenging time.
By being thoughtful and sensitive, you can offer meaningful support to the family during this challenging period. Whether through condolence messages, sympathy cards, or in your own words, your expressions of heartfelt sympathy can make a significant difference.
How We Can Help
At Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory, we understand that navigating the complexities of loss is a deeply personal and often overwhelming experience. That’s why we’re committed to providing more than just funeral services; we offer a compassionate, supportive environment where you and your loved ones can begin the healing process.
We know each life is unique, so we strive to honor that uniqueness in our services. From traditional funerals to more contemporary celebrations of life, we work closely with you to create a meaningful tribute that reflects the individuality of your loved one.
Talk with us to set up a time to come by and see our facilities. We would love to show you around and discover how we can help your family through this time.
Grieving doesn’t follow a set timeline or pattern. Our experienced staff is here to offer emotional support, not just in the immediate aftermath but also in the weeks and months that follow.
We can connect you with grief counseling services and support groups in the community, helping you find the right resources to cope with your loss.
The logistics of planning a funeral can be daunting, especially when you’re already dealing with emotional turmoil.
We’re here to handle the details, from coordinating with the cemetery to arranging funeral flowers so you can focus on what truly matters: honoring your loved one and spending time with family and friends.
We offer a variety of memorial keepsakes, including custom urns, memorial jewelry, and tribute videos, to help you keep the memory of your loved one close to your heart.
Online Condolences and Tributes
For those who can’t attend the service in person, we provide an online platform where friends and family can offer their deepest condolences, share stories, and even view a live stream of the service.
We’re here to offer a helping hand every step of the way, making this difficult time a little easier to bear. At Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory, we’re not just service providers; we’re your partners in commemorating a life well-lived.