Man comforting woman after learning what to say when someone passes away.

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What to Say When Someone Passes Away - A Helpful Guide to Condolences

What can you say when someone loses a loved one? Use this helpful guide for expressing condolences to offer peace and comfort.

Patrick Hicks

Patrick Hicks, @PatrickHicks

Head of Legal, Trust & Will

When someone passes away, it’s only natural to want to offer the grieving person or persons your condolences. However, it can be incredibly difficult to come up with the right words to say. You might be worried that your words will come off cliché or trite. Here are some suggestions on what to say when someone dies so that you can offer your love and support while knowing certain things that you should avoid. 

What to say when someone dies

What should I say? Are my words appropriate? Should I offer my favorite memory of the deceased, or is it too soon for the grieving person to hear? Am I offering enough depth or sensitivity to the situation? 

Someone we care about is grieving, but we have no way of understanding exactly how they feel. Understandably, coming up with the right words of sympathy and support when someone dies can be incredibly tricky to navigate. 

To help you through these circumstances, here are some ideas on supportive and comforting messages you could offer to someone who is experiencing a loss. Try them on and see which ones may feel most natural to you and the person in question:

  • I am so sorry for your loss.

  • (Name) will be so missed.

  • You and your family will be in my thoughts.

  • I am incredibly saddened to hear about (Name)’s passing. 

  • I am devastated by this news.

  • I cannot imagine how you must feel right now.

  • I am here for you at any time if you’d like to talk.

  • (Name) was a wonderful person and I am so sorry to hear of their passing.

Although some of these phrases may seem obvious and simple, sometimes it is best to leave it at just that. A grieving person won’t necessarily have the bandwidth to process much more. A short and empathetic message to let them know you’re thinking of them is often more than plenty. 

What to say when someone loses a spouse or partner

Beyond general words of comfort, you may want to tailor your message based on the specific type of loss the person is going through. It’s helpful to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. 

When someone loses their spouse or partner, they can feel like their world was just turned upside down. They lost their other half. Of course this brings about grief and sorrow, but they may also feel guilt, shock, fear, numbness, or even anger. Know that whatever feelings the grieving person may express (or not express), they are all normal or valid. 

With this context in mind, here are some words of comfort you might offer:

  • (Name) was an incredible person.

  • I’m so sorry. I love you, and I’m here for you.

  • The love you shared with (Name) was beautiful. I admired this about your relationship:

  • (Name) loved you immensely. They would always tell me this about you:

  • I know that your loss must feel unbearable right now, but I know that their love for you is unbreakable and will be with you forever. 

What to say when someone loses a parent

For many individuals, a parent is a source of unconditional love and stability. Having this safe space that you had since childhood taken away from you can feel devastating. There are also plenty of individuals who had complex relationships with their parents, and so the grief can be mixed in with feelings of anger or regret that may feel taboo.

In other words, there is no “normal” way to grieve the loss of a parent. Someone grieving the loss of a parent might resume their day-to-day activities relatively quickly, but then experience spirals of grief or sadness intermittently. 

With this perspective in mind, here are some suggestions on how you might approach someone: 

  • I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your (mother/father).

  • I never had the opportunity to meet your (mom/dad) personally, but I felt like I got to know them a bit through all the stories you share with me. I’ll treasure their memory.

  • (Name) was one of the most amazing parental figures I had the pleasure of knowing. I’m grateful to have known them and I’ll miss them very much.

What to say when someone loses a child

When someone you know loses a child, it is possibly one of the hardest things to empathize with, unless you’ve gone through it yourself. No one expects to lose a child, let alone prepare for it. If you wish to comfort a grieving parent, know that the age of the child does not matter. The loss is profoundly devastating, no matter their age. Intense grief may come in waves for the parent for years to come.

How do you offer condolences for such a terrible loss? It’s not easy, but here are some possible ideas:

  • I have absolutely no words for your loss. Please know that I am here.

  • I remember when (Name)...[share your favorite anecdote, if appropriate.]

  • (Name) was such a sweet (girl/boy). They were loved by everyone at school, students and teachers alike. I know that (Name) loved you tremendously.

  • No parent should have to go through this. I’m so very sorry for your loss.

What to say when someone loses a friend

Losing a friend can be difficult to process. It could have been a friendly acquaintance who touched your life in a positive way, all the way up to a best friend with whom you looked forward to growing old. Their passing can feel like you’ve lost your partner-in-crime, leaving a world that you suddenly have to navigate alone.

When someone passes away, words of condolences and sympathy are often quickly offered to immediate family members, such as spouses, parents, or children. However, the close friend is often-forgotten and left out of mourning rituals.

If you are that thoughtful person who sees someone hurting when they’ve just lost a friend, perhaps you’d like to offer them some words of comfort. 

Here are some possible words to offer for this type of loss:

  • I just heard about your loss. I am so sorry.

  • I know that you were close with (name). They were such a kind person. (Share a positive attribute of the deceased.)

  • I was so surprised to learn that (name) passed away. I can’t imagine how devastating it is to lose your friend.

  • I know we’ve never officially met, but I just wanted you to know that (name) always spoke of you so highly.

  • I wish I had the right words, just know that I am here. 

What to say when someone passes unexpectedly

Experiencing the loss of a loved one is already so hard, but when that loss comes unexpectedly, it can add an entirely different element of shock and disbelief. While no one can be fully prepared to say goodbye, a sudden death can render a person completely devastated. 

Consider the following examples of words of comfort when someone passes unexpectedly:

  • I cannot begin to express how sorry I am to hear of (name)’s passing.

  • I just heard about (name’s) death. I know that you have a lot on your plate right now. I would like to provide (specific offer or contribution). Let me know what you’d like and it’ll be done.

  • I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. I am here for you at any time if you would like to talk or simply share a space with someone.

  • (Name) was one of a kind. We will miss him incredibly.

  • We were shocked and devastated when we heard about (Name). We loved them dearly. They were a wonderful person. You’ll be in our thoughts and prayers. 

Do’s & don’ts for what to say when someone dies

The way you show up for someone grieving a loss is predominantly shaped by your relationship with that individual, as well as the relationship they had with the person who passed away. What’s important is that you do show up and show that you care. However, even the most emotionally intelligent person could accidentally say or do the wrong thing. 

Here are some top tips of the Do’s and Don’ts of what to say when someone passes away.

DO offer sincere condolences

Although it can be challenging to come up with the right words to say, do reach out and offer your heartfelt condolences. You don’t always need to make a phone call to let someone know that you’re thinking of them. A short and sweet text message or a hand-written card can be just as appreciated, with the added benefit of giving the recipient the space to digest and respond when they feel up to it. 

DON’T make it about yourself

Of course you can make simple statements about how you also feel grief or sadness, but don’t make it about yourself any further. The person you’re reaching out to is grieving, and it isn’t appropriate to get them to do any emotional labor on your behalf, even if it isn’t your intention. Instead, focus on them. 

DO lead with empathy

Before you offer words of support or comfort, take a pause and put yourself in the grieving individual’s shoes. For instance, it might be tempting to ask them an open-ended question that may seem completely innocent and benign at first. However, when grieving, even answering the most simple questions can feel overwhelming. It’s often recommended to give the grieving person space so that they can open up when they feel ready. Offer your condolences and let them know that you’re there for them should they want support.

DON’T give unsolicited advice

When we feel badly for someone, we often get tempted to give them advice disguised as words of comfort. However, unsolicited advice can actually be unwelcome. It might make the grieving person feel uncomfortable, unsupported, or even pressured to “speed up” their grieving process. It’s often better to embrace that you don’t truly know how they feel or what they are going through, rather than acting like you do. Avoid presumptuous phrases like, “stay strong,” or “there’s a reason for everything.” Instead, use phrases like, “I know you’re going through a difficult time and I’m here for you whenever you need me,” or “I can’t begin to understand how you are feeling right now. I am so sorry for your loss.” 

DO offer your time

While a grieving person may not feel ready to open up right away, they’ll eventually feel ready to lean on someone’s shoulder for support. Simply providing the invitation of your time can provide great comfort. “I’m here if you ever want to talk,” or “I know you are going through a lot right now, but now that I’m here,” are great examples of what to say.

Also, you might even offer your time in terms of practical support. You can certainly ask, “is there anything I can help you with,” it can be even more helpful to be as specific as possible. For instance, “I am going to drop off some groceries for you. I plan to pick up X, Y, and Z, along with some A, B, and C. Let me know if there is anything on this list that you do NOT want, or if there’s anything you’d like to add.” This way, it doesn’t put the burden of decision-making on the grieving individual, and gives them easy options to respond to. 

Learn more about what to do when someone dies

Do you have someone in your life that always seems to know just the right thing to say? You’re lucky if you do, and they can serve as a great example. However, for the vast majority of us, knowing what to say when someone dies can feel near impossible. On one hand, we don’t want to not say anything because we want to show that we care. On the other hand, we can feel paralyzed with the fear of saying the wrong thing and appearing insensitive. 

Although it’s best to err on the side of caution, know that a grieving person will almost always appreciate any words of support, no matter how awkward you may feel. The simple act of letting someone you care about know that you’re thinking of them may be just the support they need. Most likely, they won’t expect or need anything more from you at the moment. 

When in doubt, simply state that you don’t know what to say, but that you are thinking of them and are there for them if they need you. 

For more advice on how to approach this universally difficult subject, check out our guide, What to do When Someone Dies

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