“Those we love never truly leave us when they die for there are things that death cannot touch.” We all know that death and dying are a part of life. Throughout our life we will have the misfortune of experiencing the loss, the grief, the despair, the emptiness, and the anxiety that a death brings on.
It may be our grandparents, our parents, our aunts, uncles, other family, friends, spouse, heaven forbid our children or even our pets. No matter who, we will feel the pain and grief of that loss. There is nothing you can do to fill that void and often it feels like there isn’t anything to say either. But there are things you can say and do to help your loved ones feel supported in a difficult time.
We are humans and by nature we want to show our empathy, provide some sort of comfort during difficult times. We may want to send flowers, plants, or special gifts. Maybe we even attend a memorial service or a celebration of life. We send cards, we offer our condolences, thoughts, and prayers, but what do you say to someone who is grieving?
What Not To Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Most people don’t really know what to say…. Because you know there is nothing that you can say that will make it better. We don’t even realize in our time of just trying to fill the lines or the void of silence, there are things that we should NOT say.
It has been studied and spoken of many times, there are phases or stages of grief, and we must accept the unacceptable. It does not go in any order, and it is common to circle back around and go through a phase again. These are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Sometimes it’s more like a lost tumbleweed in the wind.
As a person who has experienced more loss than should be bearable, I can’t be the only one that thought in my darkest and deepest moments, “why would you say that to me?” I know that the ones surrounding me were just trying their best. They were trying to find the words to say, they wanted to show their sympathy, care, and concern but they didn’t make the best choice. So, let’s start off with a few examples of things not to say to someone who is grieving.
Phrases to Avoid
- “They are in a better place now.” We don’t want anyone to suffer, and we want our loved ones to feel at peace, however to the one grieving, we are the ones left here with the emptiness and loneliness. We are the ones that will miss them, and we want to ask, “well why can’t I go with them.” You want to scream “I want to go to a better place too.”
- To ask the question “was their death sudden?” – All deaths are sudden, no matter how gradual the dying may be. It suddenly hits, it suddenly hurts, it is all too sudden. It’s always sudden!
- “At least you still have ….”- This one really hits very hard! When my father passed, I heard “at least you still have your mom.” When I lost my aunts, they said “at least you have other aunts.” When I lost my grandparent, I heard “at least you have the other family.” When I lost my son, it was “at least you have your other kids and grandkids". Then I lost my mom and it was all ‘oh, at least you have “blah, blah, blah.”' No, this is never a good idea to say. I promise you that even though we have others to hold and love and be with, it DOES NOT take away from the emptiness left from the ones that are no longer with us. Our heart and soul hold this love and every feeling. When death happens, it literally rips that piece of our heart off, it doesn’t get replaced. The hole that exists does not get filled with something else.
- Avoid saying “it was for the best” or “everything happens for a reason.”
What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving
Now that you know a few things not to say, here are a few things you can say to someone who is grieving. When you greet a grieving person or are trying to write a message to them, you may be searching for something more personal than “I’m sorry for your loss.” This is a very common and appropriate way to express your condolences. However, there are some alternative ways to say “I’m sorry” and to convey your love and support. Here are a few things you can say:
- Thinking of you during this difficult time.
- We are only a call away and no matter how big or small it will not be a bother or trouble.
- If I can assist with anything while you are with your family, I am here for you.
- We are sending love and hugs.
- We truly hope that you may allow yourself to hurt and heal.
- You don’t have to be strong through this, it's ok to not be okay, to cry and let it cleanse your soul.
- Compliment the person, if you knew them say “Your mother was a beautiful person, she will be missed”
- Sharing your sadness as you remember your loved one
- Wishing you strength and comfort.
Example Notes to Someone Who Lost a Loved One
Then there may be times that you would like to speak a little more and truly want to have your words felt. You may experience writer’s block. I have a few examples of some things that I have personally said. You are welcome to use or change as you like. I hope it can help you too.
- We send our continued condolences, thoughts and prayers for comfort and peace in this difficult time. There are no words that will ever make it better, there is a space in her heart that will never be filled, emptiness will remain, however know their love was and remains strong and unbreakable. Each time the wind blows, that is him whispering in your ear "I am ok now, I love you.” Each bird that you hear sing, that is a reminder that he would have sung to the world his undeniable love for you. May there be continued peace and comfort.
- We are thinking of you and praying you find moments of peace and comfort in the midst of your grief. Hold on to the memories because every moment was a gift. Grief is a journey everyone travels at their own pace.
- I will share a quote from J.K. Rowling “Love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”
- Your father was the first man you loved, you will always remember him, as a small child, your tiny hands in his, or maybe when you faced a life lesson. Your dad remained calm and spoke of wisdom. You will forever miss him; however, you shall know he will continue to always be there, right by your side.
- I am so sorry for the loss of your mom. A mother’s love can never be replaced. In the lessons she taught, the patience she gave, and in the hearts of the children she raised. Our prayers go out to you in this time of great sadness.
- We know that we can’t have our pets for all of our lives, but we surely love them for all of their lives. They are able to show us a perfect example of unconditional love. They are usually the best companion, and we speak to them as the ultimate best friend, and hey, we know they won't share our secrets.
- Sending you a virtual hug across the miles. The pain is so deep that it can’t be spoken. This pain will forever exist, but it will eventually not be so very hard. The grief will come in waves and some days are better than others but may their precious soul rest in peace. May your heart not continue to break but feel their hands on your shoulder when you feel weak. May you smile when you feel the warm breeze, knowing it is their sweet whispers of “I love you too…”
What do you say when there is nothing to say? It’s ok to not say anything at all. Just present a hand to hold, a nice embrace of a hug, a shoulder to lean on, a bench to just sit on, or a place to release and reset will also be appreciated. Look at the sky with them and enjoy the clouds or stars. Just breathe, cry, laugh or even scream. Remember we all will feel the pain and grief of the loss of a loved one, and all of us will experience it differently. Sometimes, no words at all need to be spoken, just the feeling of love and comfort. When the grieving person is ready to talk, they will, and let them. Encourage them to speak of their loved one or who they miss. Let the memories live on.