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What To Say When Someone Dies

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people hugging at cemetery

For something as common and universal as death, it’s quite amazing how often most of us struggle with not knowing what to say when someone dies.

While saying, “I’m sorry for your loss,” is perhaps the most common way people offer condolences, the person grieving may not feel comforted by these words alone.

When my husband passed away, it really bothered me to hear this. I felt like I was being told I'd lost track of him somehow. In those first few months, I felt like his soul was quite close to me, so while I missed his physical presence, I didn’t feel as though he was "lost."

When I think back on the sympathy messages and condolences I received, what I truly appreciated was hearing fun and interesting stories about him from others who loved him.

RELATED: 9 Ways To Cope With Grief After Someone You Love Dies

During funerals and memorials, we often realize how much we didn’t know about the person, even when they were someone close to us. So if you're at a loss for what to say when someone dies, there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

How To Express Condolences

1. Don't make assumptions.

Don’t assume that you know the quality of the relationship between the person you want to console and the person who died.

If you're engaged in conversation with the person you want to comfort, you can ask questions that will give you a clue, such as, “What will you miss the most about (the person’s name)?”

This helps you avoid accidentally walking into an awkward situation, such as the person being really glad (or at least, not particularly sad) that their relative is no longer around.

2. Ask about a favorite memory.

Generally, most people will be open to you asking what their favorite memory is about the person who has passed.

Sometimes they appreciate the opportunity to share something from their last moments with the person or about a recent visit they had. And it can bring comfort for the person grieving to reminisce about happier times.

3. Listen rather than talk.

Refrain from telling all your own stories about people who have passed, as well as tales about your own grief process and timing unless you are asked to do so. Instead, close your mouth and open your ears.

Each person’s experience is unique and needs to be honored. Let them know you are open to listening whenever they need to talk.

4. Offer to help with something practical.

When someone is grieving, it's hard to focus on anything other than funeral arrangements or memorial services. But nobody should have to go through it alone.

Ask if there is anything you can do to help with the arrangements and if you should work with another person on it instead of overwhelming your friend.

5. Be gentle.

Be compassionate, kind and helpful to the person grieving. This means steering clear of cliché phrases or speculation, especially as it relates to life after death. It's an especially sensitive topic.

If you don’t already know the person’s beliefs, try to find out if they would or would not find it comforting to hear that their loved one’s soul has gone on to a better place. If they don’t believe in the hereafter, it's better to focus on simply saying something positive about the person’s life here on earth.

6. Allow your actions to speak for you.

Sometimes what we say is really about allowing our actions to speak for us. It can be especially gratifying hearing and seeing what others have done in honor of those who passed.

What we do in the person's name has a beneficial effect on their soul in the next life. Planting trees and flowers, dedicating books, making charitable donations, helping out with a worthwhile cause — these are words in action that recognize the people who have passed.

These acts of kindness help the love grown here on earth by the people who have departed, remain present and thriving long after they've physically left.

7. Keep in touch.

After the funeral and endless sympathy cards, many people often forget to check up on their friend or family member who has lost a loved one.

It's important to continue to offer love and support long after the services and gatherings have ended. Because sending a card filled with heartfelt sympathy only offers so much comfort long-term.

Be sure to reach out with a phone call or text, or arrange to get together in person. This shows that you value your relationship with the person who experienced the loss of a loved one, and want to maintain it.

RELATED: 50 Songs About Death & Losing Someone To Help You Cope With Grief

What to Say When Someone Dies

Finding the right words to say when someone passes away can seem difficult, but it's really all about letting the grieving person know that you are there and that their loved one is missed.

Along with expressing condolences, be sure to stick with phrases and words that let the grieving person know you are supportive and understanding of their grief.

1. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

2. “I’m always here to listen if you need me.”

3. “No words can ease the pain, but I’m thinking of you.”

4. “I wish there was more I could do for you. Just know how terribly sorry I am.”

5. “[Person’s name] was so special and they will be greatly missed.”

6. “You’re in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

7. “I'm so sad to hear of [person’s name]'s passing. They will never, ever be forgotten.”

8. “I can’t imagine how you feel right now.”

9. “I’m so sorry. What can I do to help you right now?”

10. “I love you so much, and I love and miss [person’s name], too.”

11. “It’s hard to believe [person’s name] is gone. I’m so sorry.”

12. “How are you doing today? I am here for you.”

13. “I’ll miss [person’s name].”

14. “Take as much time as you need to grieve.”

15. “I’m not sure what to say. Just know that I’m very sorry.”

What Not To Say When Someone Dies

In trying to offer words of comfort, you may find it hard to not use clichés and phrases that will inevitably come off as cold or heartless. Keep in mind that you don't need to fix the situation or make sense of it, nor do you need to try to compare this person's grief with your own.

Don't make assumptions about the deceased person, praise the grieving person's "strength," or try to one-up them in any way.

1. “Everything happens for a reason.”

2. “[Person’s name] is in a better place.”

3. “Don’t cry.”

4. “At least [person’s name] isn’t suffering anymore.”

5. “I know exactly how you feel.”

6. “Stay strong.”

7. “[Person’s name] had a good life.”

8. “Be grateful you are still alive.”

9. “I guess it was [person’s name]’s time to go.”

10. “Why did [person’s name] have to die? It’s not fair.”

11. “[Person’s name] would want you to be happy.”

RELATED: Grief Etiquette 101: Is It Rude To Ask How Someone Died?

Susanne M. Alexander is a personal development coach, relationship and marriage educator and coach, and author and co-author of over 20 books and discussion guides.

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