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What to say and what to not say when someone loses a loved one

We often get asked, “What do I say to the bereaved? It’s so hard to know what to say? I don’t want to say something stupid or hurtful. Can’t you just tell me what to say?”

While we cannot tell you exactly what to say in each instance, today’s article is an attempt to help answer these questions and offer some help.

What to say:

  • I’m so sorry for your loss.
  • I don’t know what to say
  • Condolences
  • I wish I had the right words for you.
  • Say nothing and offer a shoulder and ear or hug
  • Ask what they would like/need done
  • I can relate 
    • if you have gone through a similar loss
    • this is different from using I understand as all of our situations are unique
  • I can only imagine how difficult (tough) this is for you.  What can I do?

What NOT to say:

  • Anything that’s about you – it’s not
    • I understand, I can’t believe, I can’t believe how well you’re doing
  • I know how you feel
  • Comparing to another death
    • This is like when my tadpole died…as a hyperbole example
  • Offering advice 
    • Now isn’t the appropriate time
  • Trite overused statements
    • They are in a better place 
    • They are no longer suffering
    • At least…. (you have kids, dogs, didn’t die of….)
  • God never gives you more than you can handle
  • You are young, you will remarry (or date again)
  • Comparing the situation to a failed marriage or relationship
  • How are you doing? 
  • I know how you feel.
  • They would have wanted you to move on, not mourn so much, etc.

Some things you can do (when words don’t work):

  • Make sure they have enough water to drink
  • Offer them a journal to keep track of things or to write their emotions
  • Offer to run errands
  • Ask them out for coffee/lunch
  • Gift cards for food, self-care, or entertainment
  • Be mindful of dietary restrictions when sending food
  • If you see something that needs done where you can help, offer to do so but accept no if that is the answer.  Some ideas:
    • Lawn mowing
    • House cleaning
    • Errands
    • Snow removal
    • Grocery shopping
    • Child care 
    • Transportation
    • Pet sitting/care

Is there anything else that you can think of that would be appropriate in this situation? Please reach out to us and let us know.

The loss of a loved one is difficult and we often struggle with saying or doing the right thing. If you do feel the need to say something, please make sure your focus is on the person suffering the loss and not on yourself or fixing a situation that simply cannot be “fixed”. If you can’t think of anything to say, just say, I’m so sorry and end it with that. Your presence and care are enough. 

As much as you would like to, you cannot take away the pain or grief. You can be a good friend and just listen without problem solving or judgment. Observe what may need to be done and ask for verification from your friend/loved one. Accept their yes or no as you try to assist them in their time of need. Do your best and know that’s enough.

We invite you to download or share with those who’ve lost a loved one our free copy of 10 Ways to Move Forward After Loss 

Please like, comment, and share.

Many blessings to you all,

Jeni & Teresa

PS: For additional support Torn in Half: The First Days as a resource for the first days after a loss – available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.