What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

Supporting a Griever / Supporting a Griever : Eleanor Haley


I’ll probably undermine your confidence in this article when I tell you; I’m not sure how to write about this topic. Though I have plenty to say in response to the question of what to say to someone who is grieving, I’m conflicted about the best guidance.

On the one hand, I know there are no “right” or “perfect” words to say to someone who’s grieving. Many who’ve been through grief will tell you; it’s often not about what you say but what you do. And many times, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen. Knowing this, I’m wary of getting caught up in a discussion about finding the right words when I know the “right words” don’t exist.

On the other hand – words matter. You know how the old saying goes – Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will cut me to my core and live rent-free inside my head for years to come. Maybe I have that wrong; I’ll Google it later.

Anyway – when it comes to grief support, words can heal and connect, but they can also create barriers and hurt. This is true because anxieties about not having the right words sometimes prevent people from offering their support at all. And because, like it or not, offputting, inappropriate, or offensive comments can occasionally create conflict and separation. 

So, I don’t think we can ignore the question of what to say to someone who’s grieving. To the extent that we can help people feel more confident in their ability to support their friends and family, and potentially not say something hurtful or minimizing, we should.

What to say to someone who's grieving

What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving:

We’ve written quite a bit on this topic already. A long, long time ago, we even wrote an eBook. So, let me start by sharing some of the guidance we’ve laid out in the past.


Before offering support, you should be aware of a few general pieces of guidance:

Do not offer a silver lining and never say anything that starts with “At least…”:

Though people differ on what they find helpful vs. hurtful, this is pretty widely accepted guidance. Whether intended or not, statements like these tend to minimize a person’s pain and sometimes their loved one. They sweep the person’s pain under the rug and ask them to focus on abstract positives that, in most cases, do not resonate with the griever.

Follow the grieving person’s lead:

Sometimes the grieving person will identify silver linings, positives, and meaning in their loss on their own. This is a normal and often constructive way to cope with grief. Why is it bad for you to try and do this but good when the griever does? Because they are the only person who can know what this loss means to them. They are the only ones who can make meaning of their experiences. Once they do so, it’s okay to agree and support them in their beliefs.

Always consider your audience – when in doubt, leave it out – and know that what’s comforting to one person may be offputting to another:

Some people find Bible verses comforting in their grief, while others think expletives are the only way to express the tragedy of their loss. I’m pretty sure there are quite a few people who might agree with both of these statements.

If you know the person you want to comfort well, you know how approaches involving religious statements, swear words, cracking jokes, etc. might land. However, if you don’t know the person well enough to know these things, then play it down the middle.

Also, know that there isn’t one perfect statement that everyone likes to hear.  I’m sorry for your loss” is probably the most standard approach, but even this rubs some people the wrong way. As I said, there’s no perfect answer. How could there be, really? We’re all very different individuals with different experiences and different needs.

how do I know what to say to someone who is grieving

Thanks, but I still don’t know what to say to someone who’s grieving:

We recently asked people in our social media communities the words that felt right to them at the time of their loss. We received a wide range of responses but noticed one trend. Above all else, people liked to hear that others are there for them.

This mirrors much of the advice in our article 64 of the Best Things Ever Said to a Griever, which is also a collection of advice from our reader. A large chunk of these submissions also indicated that the best thing someone can do is offer a supportive presence.

The number one suggestion for what to say to someone who is grieving is some variation of the statement “I’m here for you.” With this caveat – you have to actually be there for the person. Don’t say “I’m here for you” if you plan to exit stage right and forget to check-in for a year.

The following lists the “here for you” statements people shared with us.

best thing to say to someone who is grieving

Here are a few honorable mention suggestions:

“I’m sorry. I love you.”

“My heart is heavy for you.” or “My heart goes out to you.”

“No need to respond.”

“This sucks.”

I’m sending a hot meal/coffee/groceries to your doorstep.”

“My favorite memory of ____ is…”

“I’d love for you to tell me more about ____ sometime.” or “Do you have a picture of _____?”

“I may not know what to say, but I can listen.”

What you’re feeling makes total sense.”

Don’t worry about doing X, I’ll take care of it for you if it’s okay with you.”

Please accept my deepest condolences.”

“You remind me so much of ________.”

If you have a suggestion, please share it in the comments below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.

Let’s be grief friends.

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29 Comments on "What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving"

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  1. GregnBarb  March 26, 2021 at 1:12 am Reply

    Instead of saying call if you need anything.. just show up and be there.. help clean up.. makeem take a shower and go shopping… Just be there with them

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  2. Jodi  March 3, 2021 at 10:29 am Reply

    I lost my 23 year old son unexpectedly and tragically 2 1/2 years ago from a car accident.
    I found that saying something honest was the best thing to say to someone who has lost some thing that was the most precious thing to them on earth.
    I would cringe anytime somebody would say “he is in a better place now” “God only takes the best”, “I don’t know what I would do”. My thought on that is, it’s easy to say when it’s not your child God took. People just need to think about how they would react if it was their child. One of the best things to say is “there are no words” or “this really sucks”.
    You also need to keep checking in with that person after the dust has settled. That’s when reality hits. You’re left wondering how everybody else is living their life when your world has completely been flipped upside down and you’re struggling to find a way to live with a gaping wound in your heart.
    Be patient, kind and gentle. Know that they will never “get over it“ or enough time will ever pass that they will stop grieving. So don’t elicit unwanted advice to someone who is grieving unless they are directly asking you for it.

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  3. Cheryl  February 15, 2021 at 3:24 pm Reply

    I may not be able to tell you what you can say, but i can tell you what not to say.

    ….Suicide is selfish
    ****why did they do it?
    you can’t go there? (don’t tell me where to go or not go with my grief) I don’t care how ridiculous or morose I’m being.

    Best things people said to me, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say. All pray for you.

  4. Marg  February 8, 2021 at 9:16 pm Reply

    For me:

    “Is there anything I can do to help you?” When the occasional person did ask, I have said things like:

    “I really just need a hug right now” or

    “I’m finding some very basic tasks very difficult, at the moment eg; cooking, mowing the lawn, etc.

    Some people sent cards and flowers. I found that very comforting.

    One friend offered me a Do Not Disturb sign, whilst I was grieving and writing a report for the Coroner. That was profoundly helpful to me.

    Some people wanted to visit, including one friend from out of town – without any notice. This was very unhelpful. I needed notice to socialise at all.

    Some people urged me to return to groups I had a connection with. I found that very unhelpful, as I would return when and if I was ready to do so.

    I hope this helps.

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  5. Glenda  February 6, 2021 at 8:26 am Reply

    Thank you. My grief isn’t new. My daughter died 10 minutes after birth. She was full term. Pregnancy was fine so no one expected anything to happen. She died September 1984. I was very encouraged by your article. It’s good to have someone take on this. I am years away from it but your article pulled up words and actions that happened or were said. Infant loss wasn’t a topic back then. We had a full funeral. Open casket and burial. It gave people the chance to see she was real. She happened. But the words kinda burned into my brain.

    I wish they would have let me scream and wail. People don’t allow what’s uncomfortable. I wasn’t even allowed an audible noise. I am so glad somethings have changed in support of grieving people. My heart breaks for all of your losses. I couldn’t begin to know how anyone can grieve the loss of 5 people. God’s richest blessings to you. I’m so very sorry. I’m seriously here if anyone wants to chat or message.
    Thank you for a very good article.

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    • Isabelle Siegel  February 9, 2021 at 10:01 am Reply

      Glenda, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to endure an entire pregnancy only to lose your baby… My heart goes out to you. I think you’re right: People are uncomfortable with others’ grief. As a society, we view difficult emotions as “bad.” I, too, hope that this is changing. At What’s Your Grief, we are trying to take steps toward relabeling difficult emotions and toward giving people a place to express the full extent of their grief. All the best to you.

    • anonymous  February 9, 2021 at 11:24 am Reply

      Hi Glenda,

      Your writing brought back memories for me of my childhood friend who lost her 2 month old daughter to SIDS.

      It was September 1986.
      A time when grief was repressed A LOT by the culture.

      My father had died in his sleep 10 days earlier. Unexpected. Age 69. Sept. 4 or 5th – doctors never quite knew which.

      On August 16, 1986, my husband and I had a birthday party for one of my brothers before he and his wife left to begin a new life in Florida.

      Never had a party for any sibling before this — was just guided inside to do it.

      All childhood friends and relatives were there. Huge party.

      Friends of my father’s.
      Friends of Debbie’s.
      Everyone we grew up with.

      Everyone got to be with my father.
      And everyone got to meet Debbie’s daughter Dana, born in July of 1986.

      Who knew that in less than a month Daddy and Dana would have died so suddenly.

      Debbie told me later how much it meant to her that everyone got to meet Dana.
      That Dana was real to them.

      I really feel your emotions today, Glenda.
      I’m sorry that you didn’t get the experience that my friend Debbie got. Thank you for speaking up about what happened to you.

      And what continues for you.
      And I want to encourage you to trust your inner self. Always.

      My own remembrances/experiences lately include all the heartless, stupid, awful things done, said, un-done, un-said since my husband’s traumatic sudden death Feb. 25, 2017.

      I am amazed, as I reflect, that I am even alive, much less tuned in.

      Tuned in to the inner me who listens, and honors the intuitive leanings.

      Who remembers the good and where it came from.
      Who is also still a grieving wife.

      I have a great garden shovel that my husband gave me, good for digging in the yard.

      Many days I have just gone out and dug up one pile of dirt and thrown it around, releasing my anger, anguish, pain, hurt.

      Sometimes I cry, yell, grunt, converse with the invisible as I heave-ho.

      This year I ordered a handmade whirly-gig from a guy on ETSY. A big red cardinal. The color spoke to me. The bird looked happy.

      So that will go into the 2021 garden somewhere, and will bring me some steadiness and life-happy.

      The same reliable steadiness and life-happy I always felt when my husband was here, and we were here together, on this dense earth.

      Peas and carrots– and birds of a feather.

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  6. ENDEAVOUR PROWSE  February 3, 2021 at 3:27 am Reply

    Hi I have had lost 5 family members and 3 of the bereavements have close together my uncle, my brother and my gran and before that my dad and my grandad how do you cope with that.? The recent was my gran s on the 19th of August 2019 I am finding it very difficult to come to terms with her passing as I was very close she brought me up from the day I was born. How do you cope with that I am crying alot.

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    • Isabelle Siegel  February 4, 2021 at 10:49 am Reply

      Endeavour, I’m so sorry for the multiple losses you’ve been forced to experience. My heart goes out to you. I highly recommend you check out this article: https://whatsyourgrief.com/cumulative-grief-aka-grief-overload/ I want you to know that you ARE coping… It’s completely normal and okay to cry! You may find it helpful to reach out to a therapist trained in grief and bereavement, which you can find here: https://grief.com/grief-counselor-directory/. Please know that, no matter what, you are not alone. All the best to you.

  7. Debbie Campbell  January 31, 2021 at 3:07 pm Reply

    Our youngest daughter passed just 7 months ago, so I’m passed the shock into the hard part- reality. I love the ones who seem know how much you hurt after the shock wears off, and they keep an eye on you, even after the others think you should be long over it after the first 6 months. I got a lovely card from a friend just a week maybe ago. She started, “I have no words….”. That was incredibly thoughtful to me. She didn’t pretend to understand and didn’t offer me platitudes. The ones who send you a card 7 months later are keepers.

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    • Isabelle Siegel  February 1, 2021 at 12:18 pm Reply

      Debbie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your friend definitely sounds like a keeper! I’m glad you have someone like her in your life.

  8. Anonymous  January 30, 2021 at 8:37 pm Reply

    “I’m sorry for your loss” sounded flat to me. Like a long, long musical note, way off key. No life in it at all.

    Also frightened me.
    Made me separate.
    “Your loss”.

    No one said this to me, except me to myself–in private.

    “I’m sorry for your grief, honey.
    I can see it.
    I can see how deep it is.
    And how could it not be?
    He was, and still is, the love of your life.”

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    • lisa stacy  February 16, 2021 at 10:33 pm Reply

      i lost my husband on Nov 28.2020 and i became numb to sorry for your loss where a friend recently lost her grandmother and i couldn’t even say it to my friend plus i have been struggling with his passing but i do have serval good friends that i talk to when i need to vent

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      • Isabelle Siegel  February 17, 2021 at 12:05 pm

        Lisa, I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m glad to hear that you have a support system by your side.

  9. Colin  January 30, 2021 at 7:59 pm Reply

    Sometimes nothing:

    “Today was a Difficult Day,” said Pooh.
    There was a pause.
    “Do you want to talk about it?” asked Piglet.
    “No,” said Pooh after a bit. “No, I don’t think I do.”
    “That’s okay,” said Piglet, and he came and sat beside his friend.
    “What are you doing?” asked Pooh.
    “Nothing, really,” said Piglet. “Only, I know what Difficult Days are like. I quite often don’t feel like talking about it on my Difficult Days either.
    “But goodness,” continued Piglet, “Difficult Days are so much easier when you know you’ve got someone there for you. And I’ll always be here for you, Pooh.”
    And as Pooh sat there, working through in his head his Difficult Day, while the solid, reliable Piglet sat next to him quietly, swinging his little legs…he thought that his best friend had never been more right.”
    A.A. Milne
    Sending thoughts to those having a Difficult Day today and hope you have your own Piglet to sit beside you 🧡

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    • anonymous  January 31, 2021 at 1:29 pm Reply

      Thank you, Colin, for this lovely and gentle message.
      Brought me warm memories of my life with my dear husband.
      Feb. 2021 will be 4 years now since his Spirit left his body, yet I feel him nearby every day.
      My reliable little piglet.

      1
  10. Reid Peterson  January 30, 2021 at 12:40 pm Reply

    Thanks for taking on a difficult topic and shedding some light for some of the more helpful things to say. I was hoping you would remind people not to ask how they can help. A griever is already overwhelmed and taking the lead on how others show up for them is like adding more weight on their shoulders. In my experience, I rely on a real life version of playing the game “Simon says.” In doing so, I use the reflecting listening skill to repeat what a griever says to me, but from a very empathetic intention.

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  11. Debbie Stone  January 29, 2021 at 7:31 pm Reply

    When my 35 year old son died suddenly, a close friend, who had children his same age, left me the following message on my answering machine:
    “Shit, Debbie, I don’t know what to say but my heart is breaking and I feel like throwing up!” It was the most real thing I could have heard at that moment- her feelings were clear and true and from the heart. I appreciated her honesty and understood how she felt.

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  12. Sandy  January 29, 2021 at 7:18 pm Reply

    I’m here for you if you just need to cry; tears are ok!!!

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  13. Arlene  January 29, 2021 at 7:15 pm Reply

    I hate the “I’m here if you want to talk”! I don’t feel comfortable with calling someone so I can go on and on about my husband. I have a child with disabilities that still can’t figure out what happened to Dad and my son can’t talk. I would love for someone to just call and say “if you’re not busy I’d love to come and spend the day”.

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  14. flo Woolgar Barrington  January 29, 2021 at 6:07 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for writing what you do. I lost one of my best friends on 27 Dec 2020 to a very aggressive cancer . I am back navigating grief not for the first time. Struggling so much with defending why I should be so devastated to people who react with or please give the family love and condolences. Which of course absolutely. But what about me. She was one of dearest friends for many years. Yes I am in the Angry stage!! So it’s a great comfort to find a place to read about grief and not feel so alone x flo

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    • Colin  February 1, 2021 at 12:55 am Reply

      No words – just sitting beside you.

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  15. Genevieve  January 29, 2021 at 5:43 pm Reply

    Today I’ve been told one more time by a friend that « it is time to move on ». This is 6 years after the death of my husband in a mountain accident, falling off a mountain. I have done my best to process his death, go on with my life, enjoy my life as much as possible, but sometimes in some occasions my emotions catch up with me and I start crying uncontrollably. It happened recently while waking up after a minor surgery. I was overcome by grief.
    It doesn’t help me to be told « to move on ».

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    • Kimberlee Miller  January 30, 2021 at 11:51 pm Reply

      Oh my goodness!!! I JUST had those words said to me, more like shoved-down-my-throat….. plus a whole lot more. I couldn’t believe it, nor any of her other cold, truly insensitive remarks. Then it became “you need to do this, you need to do that, you should do this & why did you do that, it’s in the past now, you’ve got to move forward, she’s gone, it’s over so what’s holding you up….back to you need & you MUST blah, blah, blah.” Unfortunately I’ve always been naive, sweet-natured, let others off the hook too easily & don’t stop them in their tracks right away. However, I’ve gotten WAY faster at calling them on-the-carpet & I WILL confront this person when I’m ready. I’m not afraid to & am actually looking forward to it. I just want to shut them down right on the spot, right when it happens. It is a goal of mine. I hope this helps you, my friend.

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    • Glenda  January 31, 2021 at 10:32 am Reply

      When my daughter died I couldn’t believe the amount of people who said if there’s anything you need let me know. Then no one was there after the funeral. I about screamed when I was repeatedly told God won’t give you more than you can handle. That’s so not true. The preacher said during the funeral that God needed a rose for his garden. My husband literally had to grab a hold of my arm. I about came unglued. I maintain if you don’t know what to say then don’t say anything at all. I had to believe people mean well but wow.

      Some of the words do still haunt me. Grief and shock put me in a place I was unfamiliar with as well but words said in that vulnerable place continue to be brought back up after all these years. The one that still shocks me is God needed a rose… I’m pretty sure he’s the master gardener so he can grow his own *** roses.

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      • Isabelle Siegel  January 31, 2021 at 11:07 am

        Hi, Glenda. First off, I’m truly so sorry for your loss. I’m also very sorry to hear that people have been unsupportive. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for people to say unintentionally hurtful things. I think you’re right: If you don’t know what to say, it’s probably best not to say anything at all. I recommend you check out this article: https://whatsyourgrief.com/people-say-the-wrong-thing-grief/ I hope this article has shown you that you are not alone. All the best to you and your husband.

    • Colin  February 1, 2021 at 12:56 am Reply

      No words – just sitting beside you holding your hand.

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  16. Kathleen  January 29, 2021 at 5:26 pm Reply

    After Mom died, it was the friends who said, I’m here and not much else that meant the most. I loved when people would tell me stories of why they loved or appreciated my mom. Those touched my heart

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