It’s difficult to find the right words to say when someone you know has suffered a loss. The last thing you want to do is cause more pain for a person who is grieving, but saying anything is almost always better than saying nothing at all. Keep reading for a list of comforting words for the death of a loved one, expressions that aren’t as helpful as they seem, and ways you can make life easier for a mourning person.
Whether you're conveying sympathy messages in a letter or in conversation, the bereaved will remember your presence and support far more clearly than your actual words. However, the right condolence statements can bring peace to a person who is hurting. Here are a few words to say in times of death.
- “I was so sad to hear about their passing.” Knowing that their loved ones’ death has affected others can comfort those in the midst of deep grief.
- "The ceremony was beautiful." Talking about how the church looked or how well the eulogy went helps a suffering person to think about something other than their pain.
- "Could I do [task] for you?" Finding small ways to help the bereaved is always welcome. Don't ask what they want or need; their mind is elsewhere.
- “I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.” Expressing sympathy for someone enduring the grief process can go a long way.
- “I’m thinking of your family during this difficult time.” It’s simple and it’s true.
- "I remember when they …" Sharing memories of the deceased can mean a great deal. Sharing from the heart can help grieving people reconnect with memories of good times.
- “What I’ll always remember about [the deceased person] is …” Just like sharing memories is helpful, talking about positive qualities of a lost loved one can be comforting.
- “[Person] will be dearly missed.” This phrase lets the bereaved know that they aren’t alone in their grief, and that their loved one was important to others.
- “I know that you loved them so much.” You’ll never know the extent of their relationship, but expressing that their love was clear to everyone can be a comfort.
- "I'm sorry for your loss." This small phrase lets a grieving person know you care. It sums up everything they need to hear from you in the clearest, most easily understood phrasing possible.
- "I was glad to see [person] here." Speaking well of a third party who can offer moral support can be an excellent idea. It’s a powerful reminder that the bereaved aren't alone, and that people are open to them reaching out.
- “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling.” It’s true, and it gives the grieving person room to feel however they feel.
- “I’m here for you.” Whether they call on you for help or not, these simple words reinforce how supported the bereaved feel.
- “I loved [the deceased person] so much.” It’s nice for a person in mourning to hear that their loved ones were loved by others.
- “May their memory be a blessing.” One day in the future, the bereaved will smile at the memories of their loved ones instead of crying.
- “Words can’t express how much [person] meant to me.” When words fail, this is a good sentiment to let the bereaved know that you really do care.
- “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” No one expects you to say the perfect thing in a difficult moment. Acknowledging that a loss is beyond words can be reinforcing for a grieving person.
- Speak from the heart. If you’re close to the person, they just need you to be authentic. Keep it simple and let your supportive actions speak louder than your words.
If you’re not able to visit the bereaved in person, you can send a thoughtful card or email to express your sympathy. Most of the above sentiments can be used in a written message, but here are a few more that can bring comfort.
- “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” This simple statement doesn’t go into much detail, but lets the reader know you’re thinking about them.
- “Wishing you comfort, peace and strength in this difficult time.” The grieving reader will feel supported with just a few words.
- “Deepest condolences for your loss.” Sometimes expressing your sympathy for their pain is enough.
- “My heart goes out to you during this time.” Grieving people often feel alone in their bereavement, so knowing that you’re thinking about them is comforting.
- “May the love and support of your family and friends comfort you.” If you can’t be there in person, sending wishes of in-person support is a wonderful sentiment.
- “We share in your sorrow and pray for your healing.” Forming a community around a bereaved person can really help them in the coming weeks and months.
- “I wish I could be there in person to give you a hug.” Until you can really be there for someone in person, wishing you could be might have just the same meaning.
- “My heartfelt sympathy.” It’s a beautiful and simple turn of phrase that conveys what many words can’t.
- “Remembering [the deceased person] with love today.” Chances are, there have been many tears for the grieving person lately, so knowing that their loved one brings fond memories is a comforting thought.
- “I was so sorry to hear of your loss.” When all else fails, this standard reply rings true.
Sometimes the most well-intentioned phrase can be more painful than helpful. When finding the right words in time of death, remember that grief isn’t something you need to fix – it’s a natural process that the bereaved must work through. The following phrases are examples of what not to say to a grieving person.
- "Don't cry." When you say, "Don't cry," a grieving person may feel like you're pressuring them not to show their feelings, or to grieve in a way that's unnatural for them.
- “You’re so strong. I would be broken if I were you.” It sounds like a compliment, but the bereaved hear a completely different message: that they didn’t love the departed enough because they’re still functioning.
- "Have you talked to …" Don’t offer comfort in the form of another person, particularly a person of a faith to which the grieving person doesn’t belong.
- "I know how you feel." If you've lost loved ones, you might think you know exactly how a mourning person feels. But you don’t – because you’re not them. The same goes for “You must be devastated.”
- "I remember when I lost my …" Similar to the phrase above, this phrase shifts the focus from the grieving person to you. It’s not the same situation, so don’t say it.
- "It will get better." Thinking about the future is overwhelming to a grieving person. Over time, as your loved one becomes more able to talk about their pain, this can be a useful sentiment. At the moment of grief, however, it’s not helpful.
- “What can I do to help?” Don’t make a grieving person think of chores for you to do. Instead, find a job and do it, or talk to others who can give you a task.
- "The last time I saw …" While sharing old memories can be constructive, recent memories are too close and raw to drop on a grieving person.
- "Time heals all wounds." To a grieving person, this phrase can feel like the speaker is trying to rob the listener of the importance of their loss, or ignore it for their own comfort.
- “How are you?” This is a wonderful thing to ask in a few months, but not immediately after a loss. The answer is obvious: they’re in pain. Don’t make them reassure you that they’re doing fine when they aren’t.
- “Everything happens for a reason.” Depending on their faith, a grieving person may not hear that this painful loss is a part of a larger plan. It can make them feel powerless and that their grief is invalid.
- “This book/movie/spiritual practice really helped me get through a tough time.” Unless you know for sure that the grieving person would appreciate the book, movie, spiritual practice, or advice you’re about to give, it’s not as beneficial as you think.
- “At least [the deceased person] lived a long life.” Even if the person was very old when they died, their loved ones would have wanted more time with them. This phrase makes their loss sound less important than the death of a younger person.
- “Take care of yourself.” Basic functions may seem impossible to a person who is mourning a loved one. Rather than remind them to do something that feels so difficult, offer to help.
- Anything petty or cruel. It may seem obvious, but many people think that funerals are the perfect place to say how they really felt about the deceased person. Let any grudges or disagreements go so you don’t hurt or alienate their loved ones. If you can’t, talk to a counselor or therapist.
- Nothing. Pretending that the person never existed may be more comfortable to you, and you may think that you’re making grieving people more comfortable. But in reality, it makes them feel like their loved one has been forgotten.
Nobody really knows how to face death or how to ease the path of people who are dealing with it. All anyone can do is their best. Explore our words to say at a funeral for comforting remarks for a memorial service. You can also browse these tips on writing an obituary to say just the right thing about a loved one who has passed.