Information & Advice
What should you say to someone grieving?
How do you console and comfort someone grieving?
Information & Resources
We have explained some things that you should avoid saying or doing around someone that is grieving.
Rather than continuing to dwell on the negative, some of you may be wondering “what exactly do I say to someone that is grieving?” If you are short of words and unsure of what to say or do, this guide will help you.
In this guide you will find:
What to say to someone grieving
1. “Take all the time you need.”
These are comforting and reassuring words that are okay with the person grieving. At times grief can make people feel guilty, particularly around others, as they may not want to bother them with their emotions or state of mind. However, a statement like this simply re-emphasise that there is no time limit to grief and that they should move along their grief journey at their speed.
2. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
This phrase at times can become somewhat of a cliché, but it is important always to emphasise your condolences. We understand that grief can make people uncomfortable and leave people somewhat clueless as to what to say and what the right or wrong things are to say. But one thing you should never do is disregard a death or the pain the griever may be experiencing. So even if it is a simple text – reach out!
3. “I’m here for you.”
During times of grief, those grieving may tend to keep themselves isolated from others, or they may feel as though they are alone during this stage of their life. A simple message like this lets them know that they are around people who love them and are here to support them during this time. However, ensure your actions match your words – there are many practical things you can do for a griever to show you are there for them (some of which will be discussed further in this resource).
4. “It’s okay to cry.”
A common myth in many newly bereaved’s mind is that crying is a sign of weakness, when in fact it is a sign of strength. This lets them know that it is okay to show emotions, and they should not feel the need to be strong for others.
5. “I may not have the right words but just know I care.”
It is okay to admit that you do not know what to say – after all, we cannot always have the answers. But it is not a reason to avoid communication. Even if you are unsure of the words to utter, make it your priority to emphasise how much you care about your loved one during this time.
6. “How are you feeling today or (this morning/afteroon/evening)?”
In a previous resource, we mentioned that sometimes, asking the person “how are you?” can be a vague question that is likely to receive a very inadequate response. But “how are you feeling today?” is a more direct question that should hopefully invite a more detailed response.
7. “I care about you.”
It may not seem like it, but these four words can carry so much affection, particularly because grievers can feel so lonely after losing a loved one. Letting them know you care and also showing so is a great form of emotional support.
8. “Would you prefer I bring dinner to you tonight or tomorrow?”
One of the most common things every griever hears is, “call me if you need anything”. In our previous resource of what not to say to someone grieving, we addressed why this is not such a good thing to say. Instead, helping out with specific tasks is much more useful. For example, offering to bring dinner or meal over is much more practical and thoughtful, as it is likely that the griever is not eating much, and food would probably be the last thing on their mind.
9. “Tell me about your loved one.”
Do not feel nervous or scared to ask about their loved one. Instead, let them feel free to talk to you about their loved ones. This may help them through their grieving process and show them that people care about their feelings, pain, and memories.
10. “I’ll miss…… about them.”
Sharing a personalised memory of a deceased person – there is nothing better than that! This helps not only the bereaved to have a lasting beautiful memory of them but also creates a beautiful depiction of them to outsiders. “I’ll miss your father’s sense of humour” or “I’ll miss their smile.”
11. “I’ll take the dogs for a walk.”
Something as simple as taking the dog for a walk can be a very thoughtful and practical form of help. It shows the griever that you care about them and other aspects of their lives.
12. “We’ll get through this together.”
Encourage them that you will be with them through their grief journey, that you will be present, be there to listen and assist with practical things that they need help with.
13. “Say how they will be dearly missed.”
If you personally knew the person that died, do not forget to empathise how much you and others will miss their loved one too – even though you may not feel the effects of the death as much as the griever, letting them know that how much they will be missed is a good thing.
In addition, you might say kind words of what they meant to you – this may help your grieving friend in more ways than you can imagine.
14. “I love you.”
These three words can really go a long way! But most importantly, always show you love them with not just your words but your actions also.
The best ways to support someone who is grieving
When a friend or relative is grieving, it can be difficult to know how to comfort them. You should not give up just because it seems like nothing you do or say helps. While you can’t take away the pain, your presence is more important than you think. It’s essential to be flexible and open to a person’s grieving process.
1. Acknowledge what has happened.
Knowing what to say or do in times of grief can be hard, but you should never completely ignore what has happened. Even people with the best intentions at heart can be left speechless, but addressing the passing of a loved one is important.
2. Be sensitive.
Decipher the atmosphere of the bereaved and use that to measure what you should or should not do at that moment. For instance, if you observe that they want to be quiet or they are quiet during a specific moment, do not try and force them to talk; simply let them know you are always here when they are ready to talk.
3. Be observant.
Grief comes with a barrage of emotions – be sure to keep a watchful eye on those that are grieving. The fact that they appear to be “strong” or “fine” does not mean they are. They may be putting on a façade – watch out for warning signs! This can be anything from:
- Always wanting to be left alone
- Detachment from others
- Constantly trying to keep themselves occupied
- Showing a lack of emotion
4. Accept their feelings.
Recognise their feelings – do not try to diminish them. You may not necessarily understand how they feel, but you can acknowledge those feelings. Emphasise that there is no right or wrong way to feel on their grief journey.
5. Be present.
Being present does not necessarily mean you always have to speak, provide advice or offer solutions. Sometimes not saying anything is as beneficial, just being present at the time, lending a listening ear or just being present even in the silent moments.
6. Give them space to talk.
Speaking freely about their feelings is of great help for many bereaved people. If someone you know is grieving, let them know that you are more than willing to listen to their thoughts, perhaps rants, confusions or questions. Reassure them that they have a safe space to talk without any judgements.
7. Be patient.
Be understanding with the griever and their emotions – be patient with them. Recognise that there may be times when they just want to be silent or times where they might flare or simply just want to be alone – that is also fine. However, make sure that you are not pressuring them to rush along their grief journey.
8. Just sit and listen.
Let them freely talk about their emotions and their state of mind. You do not need to feel pressured to say anything or offer any explanations. Most times, a griever just wants to have someone to talk to. So make them feel welcome enough to open up to you, talk about their loss, frustrations, vent or even simply cry.
9. It is healthy to grieve.
Encouraging them that it is okay to cry and show emotions, that they do not need to be strong and that it is completely fine for them to grieve will put them at ease.
10. Sharing a memory of the deceased.
If you particularly knew the person who died, sharing a memory can be thoughtful and provide happy memories. You could say what the person meant to you and perhaps to others. Phrases like, “She had such a beautiful smile, that would always light up the room.”
11. Say their name.
This can often seem like a taboo and one that you feel may make the bereaved extremely emotional at the mention of the deceased’s name. However, mentioning their name actually lets them know they haven’t been forgotten by others.
13. Write them a letter.
If you are unsure of what to say to a griever – that is okay. We completely understand that. In cases such as this, you could perhaps write them a letter expressing your sympathy, the fact you are with them during this time and what you will miss about their loved one.
14. Check-in with them regularly.
Months of grieving does not equal peace, so it’s important not to feel that because their loved one died months ago, they should be fine now. Therefore ensure you regularly check in with them and do not take it personally if you don’t get a response.You may find it helpful to use set am imterval reminder on your calender to remind you to check-in on your bereaved friend or family member.
15. Group card or video.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the many lockdowns that we have encountered, visiting individuals grieving is not prohibited at this moment, but that does not mean that you cannot find other creative ways to send your condolences.
For example, organising a group e-card from other friends or even putting together a video of friends sending their condolences is a perfect way to let them know you are there with them and thinking of them, even though you physically cannot be there.
16. Be honest in your communication.
Do not try to provide cliché statements, simplistic explanations or phrases that may appear to diminish their pain. In these cases, no matter how devastating the effects of death are, your genuineness should still be apparent. Whether it’s saying that “I don’t know what to say but just know I’m here for you” or “grief is a process”, – they are better than the former.
17. Don’t leave them alone.
That is not to say you should overbear them with calls or texts. But do ensure you are checking on the bereaved at least weekly. Moreover, it is important to note that even after the funeral do not neglect the bereaved or feel that because their loved one passed away months ago, they should be fine. Things do not necessarily get better with time – do try to check in with them occasionally.
18. Reassure them the death wasn’t their fault.
At times the death of a loved one can bring many questions for the bereaved and consequently lead to feelings of guilt – “what if I had done this differently”, “if only I had”. As a friend, you can use the opportunity to encourage the griever and emphasise and reassure them that their loved one’s death was in no way their fault.
19. Remember significant days - days that may be triggering.
You could organise yearly memorial services for the deceased, put a collection together of some of their favourite things or favourite music. You could even set up a foundation in their name. All these entities are not only personal but will also help their memory to live on in the hearts of not just the bereaved but others too.
20. Keep the memory of their loved one alive.
As we have said many times before, grief is a process, something that can make individuals remember their grief even more are significant days. For example, their wedding anniversary, the deceased’s birthday, the anniversary of their day, and even the bereaved birthday, may be somewhat of a sad day for them.
Likewise, holiday seasons and days of celebration such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Christmas holidays may also be cues that remind the bereaved of their grief. So, as a friend or member of the family, aim to remember these dates and check in on those grieving during those moments.
21. Grief has no expiration date.
Making it known to the bereaved that their grief is valued and that the feelings are important and just encouraging them to process their feelings but not so in a way that rushes their grieving journey.
Instead, state that you empathise with their feelings and that there is no set time limit for grief – everyone grieves differently – and it may take others longer to grieve than other individuals.
Offer practical help
Offering practical help can make a world of difference to a grieving friend or family member who is trying to navigate the world while grieving. These practical tasks can be extraordinarily valuable to people in grief.
1. Create a memorial website.
This is both a heartfelt gesture that would definitely help to keep the memory of their loved one. It’s also a great initiative that will enable the bereaved to see just how much individuals adored their loved ones and can also be a great memory for them to be left with or something that they can go back to to read.
2. Help with funeral arrangements.
As mentioned in our funeral planning resource, planning a funeral can be a very tiring and daunting experience – there are so many details and pieces of information that need to be processed, and for someone grieving that can be overwhelming. Therefore assisting with funeral arrangements or going with the bereaved to see a funeral director etc, is a great help.
3. Volunteer to write the obituary or deliver a eulogy.
Your friend may be too overwhelmed at the thought of writing an obituary or eulogy. They may have no idea where to start; a friend, you can guide them through the process and help them create a heartfelt tribute – this may take a significant amount of anxiety off of them.
4. Writing thank you notes or messages for them.
As much as grievers are grateful for the support of those around them, they may not have the exact words to say. Offering to write thank you messages on their behalf can relieve them of a lot of stress and, at times, the burden of emotions.
5. Accompanying them to meetings.
This may be accompanying them to support group meetings, picking up the death certificate, or meetings for the funeral. Having a shoulder to lean on during these times would be greatly appreciated. Meetings such as these can be very emotional and overpowering.
6. Help financially.
Providing emotional support is great but providing financial support is something that should not be overlooked. Someone who has lost a loved one is unlikely to be working for a period of time, which may equal a loss of income or a limited amount of income.
Some practical ways of helping financially may include covering some of the burial expenses, setting up a crowdfunding page, paying part of their mortgage or rent, helping out with some of their utility bills.
7. Sending them grief devotionals.
For people of faith, grief devotionals may be a great way to console someone that is grieving. They may be confused and struggling with their faith at that point, so something as simple as a sentence of a Bible verse may provide them with strength in that moment.
8. Taking the kids for the weekend.
For someone that has lost a spouse or a partner, offering to take the kids for the weekend would be somewhat of alleviating assistance for the bereaved. Because, children may not fully understand what is going on at that moment and the parent is unlikely to have the energy to attend to them at specific points.
9. Help with chores like gardening.
If you notice their garden is untidy, you can offer to mow it. Assisting with practical and specific things is much better than asking a griever, “do you need any help”. Most likely, their response would be no, even if they do actually need the help.
10. Suggest an activity.
Loneliness is a common feeling amongst many grievers, particularly those that may have lost a spouse or a partner. In times like this, suggesting an activity such as going for a walk or watching a film would be reassuring and provide them with some company.
Always remember that during the stages of grief and years after a death has occurred, it leaves a griever with so many emotions. As their loved one, your job is to uplift them and help them during this process.
It is understandable that you will not have the capacity to do everything – but ensure you are regularly in contact with them and are on hand to help them with practical things or financially (if you are in a position to do so).
Also, be aware of the holiday season, triggering months and occasions and remember to communicate with them during those times.