What To Say To Someone Who Lost A Loved One (And What Not To Say)

Losing a loved one can be one of the most difficult and painful experiences we encounter in life. It is an emotional roller coaster that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted at its worst but still unfairly wondering if we could have done anything to prevent it from happening at its best. If you find yourself supporting someone who has recently lost a loved one, it can be hard for you to know how best to express your care and compassion, and what to say to someone who lost a loved one. After all, saying the right words during such a challenging time isn’t always easy, especially when the individual who experiences grief is unable to process the emotions fully or even barely responds back at times. To help you navigate through this delicate situation with empathy, here are some of the do’s and don’ts of what to say (and not say) when attempting to comfort someone during the bereavement journey.

stages of grief

Different Stages Of Grief:

Grief is a very personal experience, and individuals may feel differently at different stages. Remembering that each person will mourn uniquely is important, so it’s extremely crucial to be patient and understanding. Here are 5 stages of grief that people typically experience:

1. Denial & Isolation:

Denial and Isolation are two of the most common stages of grief. People in this stage of grief often behave as if the situation is not real. They may avoid speaking about their sorrow, withdraw from social interaction, or act like everything is okay when it’s not. While these coping mechanisms can temporarily relieve distress, they are not a substitute for true healing. People can only truly address the pain and heal once they openly acknowledge reality and express their emotions. Therefore, individuals must reflect on what has happened and talk about their emotions with supportive people to move through this stage of grief.

2. Anger & Bargaining:

Here, individuals can become angry at various entities such as God, their deceased loved one, or themselves. They may also start making deals with God in an attempt to undo their pain. For example, they might promise to do something if the situation can be reversed. However, it is important to remember that no amount of bargaining will bring back the person who has passed away. The only way to reconcile with this reality is by processing the emotions and gradually healing over time.

3. Depression:

Depression can look like deep sadness, helplessness, and/or apathy toward activities that were once meaningful and enjoyable. It’s essential for people in this stage of grief to openly share their feelings with someone who understands and empathizes with what they are going through. Additionally, individuals should be mindful of their self-care and practice healthy habits such as getting adequate rest, eating nutritious meals, and engaging in physical activity.

4. Acceptance & Hope:

At this stage of the bereavement journey, acceptance of the situation finally begins to take place. People can find some peace in knowing that although it is painful and heartbreaking at times, eventually, they will come to terms with what has happened. Additionally, hope for a better future can begin to arise here as people learn how to cope with their emotions and live again without the person who is gone but not forgotten.

5. Reconciliation & Remembrance:

People at this stage have already processed their emotions and accepted the reality of the situation. They often find comfort in reconciling with their loved ones through meaningful thoughts and memories that can bring about joy instead of sadness. People also tend to engage in activities such as attending memorial services, writing letters, or creating a scrapbook for their beloved person.

It is important to remember that stages of grief are not linear, they can change places or happen again.  No grief journey is the same as the other, and even though a person has accepted their loved ones passing, the grief still comes at the least expected moments. 

Memorial Diamond

What To Say To Someone Who Lost A Loved One:

No matter what stage of grief someone is in, it’s important to be understanding and supportive. Here are some helpful things you can say when comforting a grieving person:

  • “I am here for you if you need anything”
  • “It’s okay to feel however you do”
  • “You don’t have to go through this alone”
  • “I am so sorry for your loss”
  • “How can I help?”

What Not To Say To Someone Who Lost A Loved One:

Although the intention may be good, certain phrases and words can come off as insensitive or imply that the person should “get over” their grief. Here are some things to avoid saying to a grieving individual:

  • “Everything happens for a reason”
  • “You have to be strong for your family”
  • “Time heals all wounds”
  • “At least they’re not in pain anymore”
  • “Just focus on the happy memories”

We must show empathy, compassion, and understanding to those suffering from loss and be mindful of our words when talking to them. Doing so can create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing their feelings and healing from the pain of a loved one passing.

what to say to someone who lost a loved one

How To Help Someone Who Just Lost a Loved One

Losing a loved one can be devastating, and knowing how to help someone going through this difficult experience can be difficult. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to offer support during this challenging time.

1) Offer To Do Specific Things For Support:

One of the most important things you can do is to offer specific help. Rather than saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” it’s better to offer to do specific things, such as coordinating plans, helping with work, or running errands. Bringing food and offering to help with childcare can also be very helpful in the initial transition after a loss.

It’s important to be very specific about how you plan to help rather than leaving it up to the grieving person to figure out what they need. They may not know what they need, and having someone offer to bring dinner on a certain day or mow the lawn can be a relief. By offering concrete support, you can show your loved one that you care and are willing to help.

Remember, it’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say to someone who lost a loved one. But acknowledging what has happened and taking your cues from them can go a long way toward giving them a little comfort during this difficult time.

2) Check In Regularly:

Checking in regularly and surrounding them with love and support can be essential for someone who has lost a loved one. Checking in at the right frequency will depend on your relationship with them, but no matter what, it’s important to show them you are there. For close friends and family, checking in daily is an appropriate way to show that they matter and that you care. If you’re not as close, checking in weekly might be a better approach, or even better yet, ask your friend how often they’d like to be checked in on. Whichever option fits best, knowing your loved one has people looking out for them can help make such tough circumstances more bearable. Sending a text message or a handwritten note can be a great way to show someone you care and offer comfort.

3) Suggest Activities That Connect To Their Loved One:

Suggesting activities that will help them remember and connect with their loved ones is another helpful way to support someone who has lost a family member or friend. This could include attending memorial services, writing letters, visiting special places, or creating scrapbooks for the beloved person. These activities can provide a sense of connection and comfort during difficult times. While it’s important not to pressure someone into doing any of these things, simply offering some options and supporting the grieving person’s decisions can provide comfort and peace.

4) Reach Out On Important Dates:

To show ongoing support, reaching out on significant dates such as birthdays or the anniversary of the loss can be helpful. Dr. Frieden advises checking in and offering to talk about the loss if the person is open to it. It’s important not to avoid discussing the loss altogether. Sending a thoughtful card is also a good way to let them know you’re thinking of them and acknowledging the significance of their loss. Our culture tends to rush the grieving process, but it’s important to remember that grief takes time.

The holiday season can be particularly challenging for those who have experienced the loss. Well-known psychotherapist Morin suggests asking how you can be helpful during this time and offering specific forms of support such as company, help with shopping or decorating, or simply time away from holiday festivities. It’s important to keep in mind that everyone grieves differently and may have different needs and preferences, so it’s helpful to let them know what you can offer and ask what would be most helpful to them.

5) Provide The Space To Just Feel:

It is incredibly brave to open up and share emotions, but when a loved one is grieving, it’s important to provide a safe space that allows for however and whenever they want to express themselves. According to psychotherapist Julie Morin, we should let them talk and cry without feeling pressured to put on a brave face. Being present with empathy and understanding is the best way to show support without marginalizing their feelings or attempting to change their thoughts or feelings. This space respects their autonomy in deciding how and when they choose to discuss the situation. The respect inherent in this type of support will be invaluable as they work healthily through their grief and sadness.

6) Offer Practical Assistance:

Finally, offering practical assistance can be a useful way to show continued support. Depending on the person’s needs and circumstances, this could include helping with groceries, running errands, or providing rides to appointments. Offering to help with specific tasks is also a great way to show that you care. Simply offering your presence or a listening ear can be just what someone needs in these troubling times as well.

what to say to someone who lost a loved one

How Can You Support Grieving Friends and Family?

Supporting a grieving friend or family member can be difficult since we may not know how to help them. Listening when they express their emotions is great for showing your support. It is important to offer advice and be non-judgemental, and genuinely try to understand their feelings without judgment. Additionally, offering to help with practical matters like running errands or taking care of everyday tasks can help alleviate some of the stress from grieving. Finally, provide emotional support by helping them talk about their feelings and staying in contact after the initial grief has passed. Show your loved ones that you are still there for them by checking in regularly and providing love and understanding during this difficult time.

What to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One: Takeaway

Knowing the right thing what to say to someone who lost a loved one is difficult. Just being there is sometimes the greatest comfort. What you say isn’t as important as how you act. Making sure your friend or relative knows they are in your thoughts and providing emotional and physical support can make all the difference. Avoid cliches such as “It was meant to be” or “Everything happens for a reason,” Instead, choose words that provide comfort, understanding, and empathy. Remember that no situation or set of circumstances is the same for everyone, so never judge a person’s situation. Showing kindness and sympathy towards those who have gone through tragedy is an essential part of humanity, do what feels right for you, but approach it with an open heart and mind.



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