What To Say (And What Not To) When Someone Dies
It is quite common for us to feel lost for words in certain situations. This can include the anxiety some of us can experience when anticipating arriving at a party or gathering and not knowing anyone: if you haven’t mastered the art of small talk, you may well feel you do not know what to say and could end up saying something embarrassing or altogether regrettable in retrospect. At some point or another, its happened to us all, and similar things can commonly occur on family occasions too where you find yourself stumped for words with distant relatives. The worst situation in which you may not know what to say to someone would be, for many people, when a friend or loved one has lost someone.
Our feelings of not knowing the right thing to say to a friend or relative who has lost someone close to them is exacerbated by the fact we care so much about them, heightening our anxieties about wanting to say the most appropriate, and heartfelt thing to them that can provide words of comfort in one of the darkest and loneliest experiences of their lives. We worry about making things ‘worse’ for someone who is already in turmoil, or even causing unintended offence.
However, many people prefer that people contact them in their time of need to express their condolences, as opposed to saying nothing at all, which could be misinterpreted as the person not caring enough to see how they are. We’ve put together some of the most appropriate ways you can express your sadness over someone’s death to those who are grieving, as well as listing a few things it’s recommended that you probably shouldn’t during this time.
‘I’m sorry to hear’
People express concern over using this phrase, worrying that it is unoriginal and far too cliched, but, in fact, most people grieving for a loved one will appreciate the empathy suggested in this message, and it may well help to open up a conversation with the person who it is addressed to, which could help with the grieving process.
Acknowledge that their grief is unique
Saying something such as ‘I can’t imagine what this must feel like for you’ or ‘I just can’t imagine what you must be going through right now’ shows that you understand that grief is not comparable, with every situation unique to those who were closest to them. Such a phrase acknowledges your sympathy for their circumstances too.
Remembering the person who has passed
It is often the case that people who have lost a loved find it difficult that others stop talking about the deceased. Sharing a memory about someone who has passed away may provide comfort. However, you should choose your words with some caution. We recommend saying something along the lines of a funny anecdote, or an ‘I remember this about him/her so clearly when..’ which can be good ways of starting up a conversation.
Remember to keep in touch
When someone dies, people tend to get caught up in the immediate aftermath, offering comforting words soon after someone has passed, and these messages of condolences tend to become less and less frequent for the bereaved as the funeral starts to become a distant memory. Consequently, getting in contact with a grieving friend or relative and asking things such as ‘how are you coping’ or ‘what is life like, now?’ could be really helpful things for someone to hear. It could also lead them to open up with struggles they may be having, as someone may seem to look like they are doing well but looks can be deceiving, and this may not necessarily be the case.
Writing on a funeral flower bouquet
When it comes to funeral flower bouquets or writing a sympathy card, it is possible to leave a simple but heartfelt message for those grieving. Ther are many different options you can choose from that we recommend you should use if you are struggling to find that right words.
You could put that ‘you are in my thoughts’ ‘our thoughts and prayers are with you’ ‘with deepest sympathy’ ‘sent with love and remembrance’ or ‘our warmest condolences’ a little gesture such as this can mean a lot to someone who has lost a person dear to them. Here is the list of flowers we recommend.
Even if well meaning, and eloquently put, you may still end up on the receiving end of anger or upset from a grieving relative after sending a message of condolence. Sometimes, this may happen whatever you say, and it should be important to not take it personally if this does happen to you. It is important to remember that the person in question is upset and trying to deal with the death of somebody close. Don’t try to explain something if it has been taken badly, but rather state that you are very sorry.
Things to not say when someone has died
Generally speaking, saying any of the following is unlikely to bring comfort to a bereaved relative or friend. It is best to stick to wherever possible expressing your sincere condolences and sympathy, and keeping any message sent strictly one relating to empathy. Here are some of the phrases we recommend not to say to someone grieving.
- I know how you feel
- There is a reason for everything
- She/he is in a better place
- At least they lived a long life
- It was he/she’s time to go
- You can have another child still
- Keep strong
- Are you not over his/her’s death yet?
- You need to move on
- They brought it on themselves