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What to Say When Someone Dies

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When someone you know loses a loved one, it’s natural to want to comfort them and offer your support. However, you may find yourself at a loss for words and feeling unsure of what to say, especially if you didn’t know the deceased well or if their death came as a surprise. Regardless, you should always offer your sympathies because they will go a long way in consoling the person, even if it may not seem so at the time. If you’re truly unsure of what to say when someone dies, it’s best to keep your condolences simple and speak from your heart.

Keep reading to discover: · What to include in a sympathy card message? · How to provide support to someone grieving · What not to say when someone dies · What else you can do

What to Include in a Sympathy Card Message?

One of the best ways to share your condolences is via a sympathy card. Today, most sympathy cards contain poems, Bible verses or other thoughtful phrases, but you should also include a personal message for the family.

What to Write in a Sympathy Card

Address Your Sympathy Card

How and to whom you address your sympathy card will make a strong impression on the recipient(s). When addressing your card, first consider who will receive the card. Is it to your friend and their spouse or your friend and their family? If it’s the first, address the card as John and Jane Smith; if it’s the latter, address the card as John Smith and Family. If you plan to send the card to a coworker, consider the same structure as if you were to send it to a friend. If you’re unfamiliar with your coworker’s family, it’s appropriate to address the card as The Family of John Smith.

Express Your Condolences

After addressing your card, consider your relationship with the person who lost a loved one. This will help you determine what condolences to express. If you personally knew the individual who passed or knew of them well, try to include positive characteristics about them or a favorite memory you shared with them. If you feel comfortable, you can also offer your help to the person grieving to give them relief in some daily tasks like cooking a meal.

If you did not personally know the individual, you can still provide some general, yet thoughtful condolences like, “There are no words to tell you how sorry I am. Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.” Or “I wish I could take away your pain. Just know that I am thinking about you and praying for comfort for you and your family.”

Cherish the Person Lost

As you write your sympathy card, always remember to cherish the person lost if you had a personal relationship with them or knew of them well. Mentioning specific characteristics that you genuinely enjoyed about the person will leave a lasting impression on the recipient. For example, “John brought so much joy to those around him. He will be missed by many.” Or “John was such a generous person. We will all miss him, but his legacy will live on through all the great work he did.”

Offer Your Help

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also offer your help when expressing your condolences. When offering help, though, remember to give specific examples of how you can help. Using general statements like, “If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know,” can place the responsibility on the person grieving to reach out to you. By offering more concrete examples, you can place the responsibility on yourself and give them less to worry about so they can instead focus their attention on their family. Specific examples of how you can help include offering to babysit or pet sit, cook a meal or run errands for them.

Include a Thoughtful Signature

Once you have expressed your condolences, the final step is to include a thoughtful signature. You can also include phrases like, “With deepest sympathy at this time of sorrow” or “My thoughts are with you during this difficult time,” followed by your name. In addition to your sign-off, you should include your return address and phone number in case the recipient or their family would like to send a thank-you note or accept your offer of help.

While it’s proper etiquette to send a sympathy card within two weeks of someone's death, there is no right or wrong time to express your condolences. Sending a sympathy card lets the recipient know that you care and are thinking of them.

How to Provide Support to Someone Grieving

A little bit of support and someone to listen goes a long way during the grieving process. Doing so can help the person grieving know that they are not alone.

When providing your support:

  • Express your condolences

  • Offer specific and practical ideas for how you can help

  • Speak with the person you know and their family before or after the service

  • Follow up with them periodically to let them know you’re thinking of them

When listening to someone express their grief after the loss of a loved one:

  • Practice silence: This is their time to express what they’re feeling, so it’s important that you listen effectively and do not interrupt them.

  • Remain attentive: Position your body toward the person speaking, make eye contact and keep your expression neutral.

  • Prod the conversation along when necessary: Politely nod throughout the conversation and verbally acknowledge their feelings with statements like, “I can understand” or “That must be difficult.”

  • Continue the conversation: Grieving takes time, so remember to offer to talk with them again soon so they know they’re not alone.

What Not to Say When Someone Dies

There are certain overused phrases and topics to avoid when expressing your condolences.

Don’t Try to “Fix” Their Grief

Everyone grieves in different ways, and while it’s hard to see someone you care about struggle, it’s important to remember that no words can fix their grief. They must process the grief in their own time. Let them do so by avoiding phrases like, “Everything happens for a reason,” “He’s in a better place now” or “At least she isn’t suffering anymore.” Instead, offer your sincere condolences and cherish the person who died.

Don’t Make the Situation About You

It’s easy to say, “I know how you feel” or “John would want you to be happy” when someone you know loses a loved one and you have also experienced a similar loss. However, no two people grieve the same way. It’s crucial that you support them throughout their grieving process without pressuring them to react a certain way to the loss.

What Else You Can Do

There are more ways than one to express your condolences when someone dies. Additional ways to show your support include sending sympathy flowers or a thoughtful gift, attending the service, gently reminding them of their loved one, recognizing special days and periodically checking in with them.

Send Sympathy Flowers

When sending sympathy flowers after someone passes, there are certain tips to keep in mind. Specifically, you should consider what type of arrangement to send as well as when and where you will need to send it. It’s most common to send flowers immediately following their loved one’s death or within a few weeks. You can have the sympathy flowers delivered to the person’s home, but you can also have them delivered to the funeral home, prior to the service, or their office.

Attend the Visitation, Memorial or Funeral Service

A visitation, memorial or funeral service can be an emotionally overwhelming experience for grieving families because it’s the first time many family members come to terms with their loved one’s death. Even if you’re only there for a short period of time, seeing familiar faces at the service can give the family comfort during their time of grief.

Remind Them of Their Loved One

After someone passes, you shouldn’t avoid saying their loved one’s name around them. Instead, it’s possible to talk about their life in a way that honors their legacy such as sharing memories or characteristics about them. Out respect for the person you’re speaking with, always take their lead on whether they would like to continue talking about their loved one.

Recognize Birthdays and Special Days

You can and should recognize birthdays and special days like anniversaries and holidays after someone passes. These are often the hardest times for the deceased’s loved ones, so your support can make a small difference.

Check in With Them

The grieving process can lead to a lot of self-isolation for a person. Periodically checking in with them can let them know they’re not alone and they have your support.

Sometimes, actions can speak louder than words. When someone you know loses a loved one don’t let their passing go unnoticed, even if you don’t know what to say. Instead, keep your sympathies simple and always speak from your heart.

At The Love Always Project, we understand that death and the grief that follows are a natural part of life. Still, they remain topics most would rather not discuss. We believe that we can best support grieving loved ones to heal by acknowledging and confronting these feelings. Access our additional grief resources here. Learn more about our mission to help others discuss end-of-life issues or join the movement.


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