When a Friend Loses a Loved One: What to Say and What Not to Say

Funeral: 01/01/1970 at

When someone goes through a loss, it can be very difficult to know the right thing to say. You know you can’t end their pain, and you can’t quite understand what exactly they are going through. You may have endured a similar or even the same loss, but no two people experience pain or loss in the exact same way. One thing that everyone needs when they are going through a difficulty like this is love and support from the people around them.

Here is what you should say to someone experiencing loss:

  • Although it can feel awkward, acknowledge the situation: “I heard about your ___ dying.” Using the word “dying” or “died” shows the person that you are open to talk to about how they really feel, rather than tip-toeing around the situation.
  • Express your concern. Always include something like, “I am so sorry this happened to you.”
  • Offer your support. “Is there anything I can do for you?” or better, “please let me know what I can do.”
  • Ask how he or she feels. Like we said before, even if you have experienced something similar, never assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day.

 

And just as importantly, here are examples of what to avoid saying to a grieving person:

  • “I know how you feel.” It can seem natural to say this because typically it can be comforting to know that someone understands you. But in this case, especially if the loss is fresh or recent, it can be counterproductive. Even if you each lost the same family member or something to that effect, you can never quite know what that person may be going through.
  • “It’s part of God’s plan.” No matter how religious, this can make people very angry. Even if they believe it is true, it’s not what they want to hear right now.
  • “Look at what you have to be thankful for.” Being thankful for other things in their life does not negate the severity of this particular thing.
  • “He’s in a better place now.” The person may or may not believe this. It is safer to keep your views to yourself unless asked. And again, even if they do believe it, they would still prefer that the person had remained right here, in this place.
  • “This is behind you now; it’s time to move on with your life.” This can come off as very insensitive, because everyone “moves on” at their own pace. Grief has a mind of its own and can hold someone hostage for a longer time than others. Additionally, people can be very resistant to this because they don’t want to “forget” his or her loved one.
  • Statements that begin with “you should” or “you will.” These statements are too directive. Instead, begin your comments with: “Have you thought about…” or “you might….”