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What to say when someone dies

If you know someone who has lost a loved one, it can be hard to know what to say. However, it is important that you do say something and acknowledge what they are going through.

Here are a few dos and don’ts to help you find the words to let a grieving friend or relative know you’re there for them.

What NOT to say when someone dies

  1. “At least she lived a long life.” – People can grieve just as much for someone who lived to an old age, as for someone who died young. Don’t assume that their age makes grief easier to bear.
  2. “Everything happens for a reason.” – Chances are that they won’t see anything reasonable or rational in their loved one’s death. Avoid sayings that suggest they shouldn’t be as sad as they are.
  3. “He’s in a better place. He’s with God.” – Unless you know the person well and know their religious beliefs, it may be best to avoid mentioning heaven or the idea of an afterlife.
  4. “You’ve got to be strong.” – When someone is grieving, the pressure to be strong can make them unable to express their feelings. Instead, let them know that it’s okay for them to grieve.
  5. “Haven’t you moved on yet? It was several months ago.” – There’s no time limit on grief. Some people will feel grief forever, and that’s okay.

What to say when someone dies

  1. “I am so sorry for your loss.” – This simple expression of sympathy acknowledges their loss and lets them know you’ve been thinking of them.
  2. “I wish I knew what to say.” – Sometimes it’s better to admit that you’re at a loss for words. No words can really sum up the pain of bereavement.
  3. “I remember when…” – Sharing a memory of their loved one can be a way to show that you’ll miss them too. Think of a time that they helped you, made you laugh, or did something special for you.
  4. “Do you want to talk about it?” – Give them space to say something if they want to and listen if they do open up about their feelings.
  5. “Here’s my number if you need anything.” – Or even better, find a specific way you can help them so that they don’t have to think of something. Maybe you could take their bins out for them, look after a pet, or give them a lift to an appointment. Practical help could be the best support you can give them.

If you say the wrong thing

Grief makes people act in unpredictable ways. Even if you’ve thought about your words carefully, there’s a chance they will react negatively. Or perhaps in the moment you have said something you later regret and want to apologise. Here are few ways to put things right if you’ve said the wrong thing:

  • If possible, apologise in the moment if something you’re saying comes out wrong or seems to have upset them. Acknowledge that it may have hurt them and explain that you’re struggling to know what to say.
  • Wait a few days. If they become angry or irrational, it may help to wait for them to calm down. They might even realise that you weren’t intentionally trying to hurt them. Apologise and explain that you didn’t intend to cause distress.
  • It’s never too late to say what you wanted to say. Reach out and express your condolences.
  • Send a sympathy card. Sometimes it’s easier to write down your thoughts. Send a card apologising if your words upset them and let them know you’re there for them.
  • Send flowers or a sympathy gift. Flowers or a small gift can be a personal way of letting someone know you’re thinking of them. Be sure to include a note or card.