Helpful Things to Say After a Death

Death can make friends and family of the deceased very uncomfortable, and often leaves people at a loss for words before, during. or after a funeral or memorial service. You want to support those who are grieving but may be afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Sisters comforting each other
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Unfortunately, some of the sympathy expressions people utter before, during or after a funeral or memorial service—such as "I'm sorry for your loss," "He's in a better place," "Time heals all wounds" and other trite words of this sort—offer the bereaved little in the way of meaningful comfort (and can even prove unhelpful). Statements of this sort require no answer and, therefore, often merely make the person offering them feel better by virtue of saying "something" and overcoming the awkwardness we understandably feel when confronted by death.

In addition, close-ended comments like this can unwittingly create the feeling that the bereaved shouldn't talk about the deceased because nobody else apparently wants to and that he or she needs to "move on" as quickly as possible.

Use these three meaningful, uplifting expressions of sympathy to help you sincerely express your condolences.

What Did You Love Most About Him/Her?

While generally not appropriate to ask when standing in the receiving line at a funeral wake/visitation, asking a griever to share his or her thoughts, feelings, and memories about the deceased at a suitable time can prove cathartic. Death ends a life, not a relationship, and those grappling with the forever loss of someone close will likely welcome the opportunity to freely share their emotions and memories with a caring, sympathetic listener—even if doing so triggers a few tears.

I Love You

While comprising only three little words, few other statements in human history have possessed the ability to fundamentally impact the feelings and future course of a person, a couple, or even entire nations. The power of "I love you" rests primarily in everything not said but implicit in the phrase itself and how we perceive its meaning, such as, "I value you above all others," "Your happiness matters to me," "You are not alone" and "I am here for you" (among countless other connotations and interpretations).

Because people often feel isolated by grief, hearing "I love you" can provide a much needed, positive reminder that he or she should not feel alone during this difficult time and that someone cares about his or her happiness and stands ready to provide comfort and support in the days, weeks and months ahead.

Skip Words Entirely

Many people struggle to find the "perfect words" to say to someone grieving the death of a loved one as if there existed a magic phrase or expression that could somehow erase the pain of loss and make the days, weeks and months ahead easy. The reality, however, is that grief is never painless and, more than likely, the bereaved will not later recall anything you said during the immediacy of the death and funeral. (Don't take it personally.)

What he or she will certainly find comforting during this difficult time, however, and might later remember, is the wordless, physical expression of your sympathy, caring, and love. Hold his or her hand; give a warm hug; offer a tissue or clean handkerchief if needed; look them in the eyes to convey your wordless feelings; rest a hand on their arm or shoulder, or allow yourself to openly cry or experience the sadness and sorrow you feel.

Death is forever and poses a difficult, unwelcome reality that takes time for the bereaved to accept and integrate into their lives moving forward. Trust that there will be plenty of time ahead to talk and, for now, just offer the precious gift of your silent understanding, support and physical presence to a griever.

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