When someone you know experiences a profound loss, it can be really difficult to know how to offer comfort and condolences. It's totally natural to feel unsure in this type of situation, but knowing what to say when someone dies is really about showing you see the other person and what they're going through. You've got this, especially if you keep a few key tips in mind.
Comforting someone is less about the actual words you use and more about sharing their perspective during this impossibly difficult time. Still, certain words and phrases can help show how much you care.
Universally Comforting Things to Say When Someone Dies
Every experience with grief is unique. The relationship someone had with the person they lost, as well as your relationship with the person you're talking to, can change how you phrase any sympathy message. Still, there are a few universally comforting things you can say that apply to any situation.
I'm So Sorry You're Going Through This
No matter who you're talking to or how they knew the person who died, you can't go wrong telling them how sorry you are. This doesn't have to be the standard "I'm sorry for your loss." You can make it more meaningful with a few specifics:
- Name the person who died. That brings comfort. For example, you could say, "I'm so sorry to hear about Jim's passing. He brought so much joy and humor to everyone's lives."
- Acknowledge the difficulty of this moment. Rather than brushing past the awfulness of the situation, it's okay to mention it briefly. A good option might be "This is such an unimaginably challenging time. I'm really sorry."
- Mention the relationship. A specific mention of someone's relationship to the person who died can be a comfort because it shows you see them and their loss clearly. You could say something like, "I'm so sorry to hear about Susan. Your relationship as sisters has always been so inspiring to me."
Resist the very human urge to add a "but" to your message of sympathy, such as "but you will see them again" or "but they are no longer suffering." Even "but you still have your memories" is not helpful here.
You're Not Alone
There's just no way around it; grief can feel profoundly isolating. Whether you're talking to someone who has lost a parent or a friend, showing them you see them and are keeping them in your thoughts can be very comforting. There are several ways you can remind them they aren't alone:
- Tell them you're thinking of them. This is a simple way to offer comfort, but it's important. You could say, "I'm so sorry to hear about Mary. I've been thinking about you a lot since I heard."
- Mention others who care. If you know of other people in the support system, you can mention that with words like, "We are all thinking about you. Please know you're loved."
- Share the emotions. Let the person know you see and share their burden during this time. You could say something like, "We all feel so sad about Allie's passing. Please know we're here to carry this grief with you."
I Am Here to Help
Although you can't make everything better, you can offer to help in a few simple ways. This can be very comforting, whether you're sending a message over text, writing a sympathy note, sending a condolence email, or just talking to a friend in person or on the phone. There are a few ways to offer help that are especially comforting:
- Offer specific things. Grief can be a cloud that's hard to see through, and it can be hard for someone to figure out how to use general offers of help. You could say something like, "I'm so sorry to hear about Evan's passing. Would it be okay if I took care of the yard for you this summer?"
- Ask what they need. If you're not sure what to offer (and it's totally okay not to be), you can just ask. You might say, "I know this is such a difficult time, and I'm thinking of you. How can I help you right now?"
- Check in. Offers of help are pretty common right after the loss of a loved one, but the grief doesn't go away after the first few weeks. Call to check in later, saying things like "I know it's been a few weeks, and I just wanted to check in. Is there anything I can do to help out?"
Sometimes, saying nothing at all can be comforting. Just being with a friend in silence can show them you care and are making no demands on them.
How to Handle Difficult Situations of Loss
Knowing what to say when someone dies can help you navigate most situations of loss, but there are specific circumstances that can be extra challenging. Most of the time, offering to help, sharing the burden, and giving your sympathy will work in these difficult moments too. However, there are a few extra considerations.
- Don't dwell on the awfulness. If someone has lost a child or baby, for example, you don't need to talk about this in a different way than another loss. They are already aware of how this is difficult.
- Acknowledge circumstances if they aren't too graphic. If someone dies unexpectedly, you can mention that. However, don't talk about how they died.
- Keep it general if you don't know the person. Offering comfort for the loss of someone you don't know can feel challenging, but you just need to keep your messages a bit more general.
Express Your Sympathy Simply and Sincerely
Ultimately, knowing what to say when someone passes away is really about showing you see the other person, share their grief, and are willing to help. You can't go wrong with simple statements of sympathy. One or two sentences are enough to show you're there for them.