How To Know What To Say When Someone Is Grieving A Loved One

Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Bereavement, or grieving the death of an individual, can be a long and difficult process. Knowing how you can provide support for a person experiencing these feelings can be challenging and finding the right words can create a sense of worry and anxiety. Even if you have the right intentions, the possibility that you might express the wrong thing may be looming in your mind. In general, in approaching these situations, it can be important to aim for thoughtful and sensitive language and be cautious of overstepping any boundaries. In this article, you will learn more specific ideas about what to say to a grieving friend including phrases, the reasoning behind them, and some things not to say.

Are You Struggling To Comfort A Loved One Who Is Grieving?

What To Say To Someone Who Is Grieving

Below, you can find some appropriate phrases you might consider saying to someone who is grieving the loss of their loved one. These helpful words and actions may reassure them that you are there to offer support. These statements recognize the seriousness of the loss and the impact that it can have on the individual. Even if you haven't felt the heartache of missing a loved one yourself, you can find ways to be there for someone who has. It can be important that you don’t attempt to fix or change anything, but rather listen to the person’s feelings and make yourself available to discuss more.

Offer Your Condolences

Simply telling someone you know who has lost a loved one and is grieving, “I am deeply sorry for your loss,” can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to show your support. This statement lets them know that you are acknowledging the situation and their feelings. Many people don’t require anything other than just knowing that people are thinking about them and have their best interests in mind. However, even if they don’t feel like talking much right now, they might want someone to talk to in the future. Letting them know you are available can be a powerful way to show sympathy and care for the individual.

Ask If There Is Anything You Can Do To Help

One mistake that people may make is to try to inject themselves into a bereaved person’s situation. Early on, many people are still trying to process their feelings and emotions and may not have a lot to say at the moment, and that’s completely okay. Try to accept this, and instead, offer a helping hand and let them know that you are there for them when they need it.

Consider letting them know that they shouldn’t hesitate to reach out through a phone call, text, email, social media, or whichever way they prefer to communicate. They might not need something right this minute, but you never know if they will need it in the future. Just letting them know that you are available to them can make a difference and help them cope.

Explain What Their Loved One Meant 

Even if you didn’t personally know the deceased individual that your friend, family, or significant other is grieving, it can be a positive gesture to briefly mention that they made a positive impact on the people around them.

They may have been a good friend, mother, father, brother, or sister to the people in their life—and you can recognize this fact. Perhaps the loved one was an excellent cook and was the life of the party at family get-togethers. Maybe they had an impeccable sense of humor that put a smile on everyone’s faces. Even though the individual is gone, and it may be hard to cope right now, memories like these will live on forever.

 You might also add that their relationship with those around them will be cherished and that their wonderful qualities as a person will be missed. Reminding someone that the person they’re grieving was loved and will be missed can mean a lot to the person that you are trying to comfort— even if the memory of that person makes them sad or tearful at the moment. 

Write A Sympathy Card

While the above suggestions can be simple and effective ways to show support to someone who has lost a loved one, it can also be difficult for many people to speak face-to-face with someone who is grieving. They might experience a loss of words, or they might be unable to reach the person directly. In these cases, a sympathy card can also be a viable option.

With a sympathy card, you can take the time to think about what you’d like to say and write a longer and more thoughtful message than what can be done verbally. Once you have written your thoughts down, you can send them to their address or deliver them personally at a viewing, memorial, or funeral.

Statements To Avoid Saying

What can arguably be more important than trying to figure out what to say to a loved one is knowing what not to say to them. Unhelpful statements may involve rationalizing why the death happened, but they can also include trying to fix the issue or the person’s discomfort. Below you will find some examples of things you may not want to say to someone who is grieving.

“They Are In A Better Place Now”

While this phrase can have pure intentions behind it, especially if the person’s loved one was suffering or in pain, it may only reinforce the idea that they are gone and never coming back. All in all, it often doesn’t provide anything constructive aside from letting them know that their loved one isn’t suffering anymore.

“They Lived A Long and Full Life”

Similar to the previous statement, while it can seem harmless, this phrase may not be completely helpful. However, it can potentially be made worse when statements like “some people never reach that age and die young” are used. A person’s lifespan isn’t a competition, and it can be important not to compare them to others. It may appear insensitive if you do.

“It Was Their Time To Go”

Even if a person was terminally ill, telling someone that their loved one’s death was on a timeline can be perceived as rude. This may be especially true if religion gets involved, and both your friends and family, as well as the deceased, were non-religious. Therefore, it may be wise to try to avoid saying, “there was a reason for it happening” or, “God said it was time to be with him.”

“You Can Always Try To Have Another Baby”

One of the most tragic situations can be when a parent experiences the loss of a child in any way, whether due to a miscarriage, illness, accident, etc. Not everyone can understand or relate to the physical and emotional energy of nurturing a baby, but it can be incredibly significant and heartbreaking for the individual carrying it. During this time, support those who are grieving the loss instead of providing other options that may not be appropriate at this current time.

“It’ll Get Better Soon”

People can cope with loss on their terms, and there is no set timeframe in which someone gets over a loved one who has passed away. Depending on how close they were with the friend, family, or spouse, some people never fully recover, but they can find ways to move forward. Therefore, try not to assume that grief should be a quick, linear process or insinuate that they should be ‘over it’ by now.

Are You Struggling To Comfort A Loved One Who Is Grieving?

“Be Strong”

These kinds of phrases can seem innocent and good-natured. However, if a person loses a loved one, they should feel free to be vulnerable. If they feel the need to stay strong, especially to set an example for others, they might delay their healing by bottling up their emotions. In an attempt to ‘keep it together’ or remain in control, they may only prolong the grieving process. Try to allow them to feel weak and express their emotions for the time being, and over time, they can build themselves back up. Let them know that you are there for them if they need it. Whatever feelings they are experiencing are valid during this time. 

Online Counseling With BetterHelp

Grief can be a long and difficult process to go through, especially alone. Many people choose to turn to therapy in order to work through their emotions and experience healing. Since grief often already involves lots of change, online therapy may be a helpful resource for those who don’t want to leave the comfort and safety of their home to receive mental health care. 

BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that can provide you with therapy through phone calls, video chats, or in-app messaging. Counselors often have the knowledge, expertise, and skill set that others don’t have in helping people cope with the death of a loved one, and therefore, can help to make the process more seamless for those who are struggling.

The Efficacy Of Online Counseling

Online counseling can be effective for a variety of mental health challenges and life stressors. In one study, researchers explored the effectiveness and feasibility of an internet-based intervention for treating grief after bereavement. They found that the intervention successfully reduced symptoms of grief and depression and, in some cases, improved post-traumatic stress symptoms. Additionally, participants reported high satisfaction with their treatment and also rated its quality as high.

Takeaway

Someone who is grieving a loss may want to be alone during this time. However, you can still find ways to be there for them when they need you.  By being thoughtful and allowing them to reach out to you in their time of need, you can be a part of their healing process. Knowing what to say and what to avoid saying may help you be a more effective piece in their support system. Since loved ones may not be trained to deliver mental health care, it remains important for those experiencing prolonged grief to consider reaching out to a professional for support. Connecting with an online therapist can allow individuals to receive care from the comfort of their homes as they work through the emotions and different stages of grief. 

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