What To Say to a Grieving Person

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 04, 2021

If you have a friend or loved one who is grieving, it can be overwhelming to reach out to them. You can feel scared to offend them, say the wrong thing, or simply reach out. 

This is normal, especially if you are also grieving. However, there are ways that you can reach out and make sure that your friend or loved one feels less alone and more loved.

How to Comfort a Grieving Person

After someone dies, people who are grieving may want to talk about everything that leads up to their death, sometimes many times. They may want to talk about the person and recount memories. They may also just need to cry. Simply being there while your friend or loved one is doing this can be very difficult.

Know that you cannot take away their pain. However, you can make them feel more seen and comforted by allowing them to talk and share their feelings. This can make a huge difference in their grieving process. Often this can be the best way to be there for your friend or loved one.

Ways in which you can help your friend or loved one include:

  • Tell your friend you are there for them. Let your friend know that you care about them and are comfortable listening to all their intense emotions during this time. Understand that grief is a process. It can take a long time to learn to live with it, and it may never entirely go away. Being there for your loved one or friend could mean being there for weeks, months, or years.
  • Support them in opening up. Tell your friend to be open about their grief to you, their friends, family, and other community members. Let them know that honoring the person they are grieving is a beautiful and natural part of grief.
  • Give them empathy. Give them support and let them know you understand how they feel. But, again, know that you can’t fix them or take away their pain. Knowing that someone is out there who can empathize with you can be a huge source of support.
  • Be honest. Remember that openness goes both ways. If you feel uncomfortable or you don’t know what to say, tell that to them.
  • Give them your help. Think of concrete ways that you can help your grieving friend. Things like making them dinner once a week or helping them find a grief counselor if they are struggling to do that are great ways to start.
  • Focus on listening to them. Listen while suspending your judgment. Let them tell the same stories or thoughts over and over again. Allow them also to be silent and give them silent support when needed.

What Not To Do

Often, the intensity of the moment can feel too overwhelming for a friend or loved one. People who are grieving can feel scared to share how they feel. Friends or loved ones of people who are suffering can feel nervous or awkward about bringing it up.

However, not bringing it up is far worse than saying the wrong thing. Make sure to at least acknowledge what happened and let them know their grief is not taboo.

Some other things to avoid doing or saying are:

  • Repeat things you have heard. Avoid saying oversimplified or cliched statements to try and make them feel better. This can make them feel dismissed and not trust you.
  • Compare their loss to a loss you or someone else has experienced. Every loss is different. Comparison takes the attention off of them and puts it on you or someone else.
  • Order them around. Don’t tell them what to do to get better or how to grieve. This will just make them feel patronized and talked down to.
  • Judge them. Try not to pass judgment on how your friend or loved grieves, how long they grieve, or anything of that nature.
  • Change them. Don’t tell them to make life changes. Just listen and encourage them to let grief take its natural course.
  • Try and fix them. Grief is a long, messy process. It often leads to deep sadness and darkness.
  • Speak in directives. Do not use statements that begin with phrases like “You should,” “You will,” or “Think about…”
  • Make assumptions. Don’t assume how your friend or loved one feels based on external appearances. Instead, wait for them to tell you how they feel and where they are in their grieving process.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Cruse Bereavement Care: “What to say when someone is first bereaved.”

James Madison University: “Helping A Grieving Friend.”

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