When it comes to loss and grief, there are many go-to sayings that people rely on to offer their comfort and support. However, not all of them are as helpful as we hope. From “I’m sorry for your loss” to “they’re in a better place” here are what to say – and not say – to a person in mourning.

Whether it is the loss of a spouse, partner, sibling, child, parent or good friend, those who are grieving a death want empathy. They don’t want their loss to be marginalized, trivialized, rationalized or fixed. This is a time of recognizing the loss and the feelings that come with that loss.

The most common, well-intentioned, but ultimately misguided things to say include:

  1. At least they lived a long life.
  2. They are in a better place.
  3. There is a reason for everything.
  4. They did what they were here to do and it was their time to go.
  5. I know how you feel.

These are seen as explaining the loss, and while they are said to be helpful and comforting, it is not what those in mourning want, or need, to hear.fragile sepia toned cowslip flower concept

Instead, focus on feelings (theirs and your own), recognize that there has been a great loss, and show support without trying to fix the grief. The best things to say are often short, simple and honest. They include:

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. In fact, Patti Fitzpatrick, a grief support facilitator and bereavement minister, notes that the two most simple yet helpful healing solutions a person can offer are to show up and say “I’m sorry for your loss”.
  2. I feel your pain. Please do not confuse this with “I know how you feel” because they deliver quite different meanings. “I feel your pain” is an expression of empathy that when coupled with a touch or embrace shows solidarity in sorrow. Whereas the latter can be construed as being about your grief instead of theirs.
  3. My favourite memory is… Sharing a memory of their loved one opens up the conversation and allows you to reminisce together; keeping the memories alive is always important to the bereaved. It lets them know that their loved one does live on in the hearts of others.
  4. I’m here for you. Let them know that you are there for them. Whether it is a phone call, coffee, a walk, anything that might alleviate the feelings of loneliness and loss. Listen thoughtfully, offer hugs, but don’t try to fix or take away the grief. And don’t be intimidated by silence. Sometimes the best support is simply being there.
  5. Give a hug. A heartfelt embrace can offer just as much meaning and sympathy as words. If you are at a loss of what to say, know that a warm hug will go a long way.

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By Christine Tompa