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What Do I Say in a Time of Grief? By Amy Long

Wednesday 03 April, 2013.

“What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?” is a question that we will all have to ask ourselves…

Do you know what to say when offering comfort to a bereaved friend or family member?

Being prepared, and knowing before-hand how to deal with grief, can turn an uncomfortable situation into a time of real support and comfort.

We enjoyed this article and hope it helps you cope with stress and bereavement.

What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?

In evaluating the needs of the mourning individual, it is helpful to fully grasp the conditions around the death.

bereavement comfort

You will find unbelievable contrasts in the mourning process that depend upon the age of the loved one who died, how the death happened, plus the gender of the one who survived makes a big difference.

Please use the following as guidelines and suggestions when considering – “What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?”

Each situation will present itself with unique chances for you to expand on your experience.


    • Avoid Clichés

      “She is out of pain now,” “It must have been her time,” and “Things always work out for the best,” are sayings which are aren’t helpful. It’s a lot more essential that the bereaved feel your quiet presence than to hear anything you feel the need to say. Keep in mind, you can find no pre-planned phrases when deciding what do I say in a time of grief which will remove the hurt from the loss.

      Words To Avoid At All Costs:

      “It was The Creator’s will.” (Initially, ask someone else what the survivor’s religious belief was.)

      “Time heals all wounds.” (Time by itself does not make everything better, though it can help. Individuals do need time, but in addition to that they need to work through the stages of grief.)

      “Be appreciative you have another child.” (This lessens the value of the child who died.)

      “I can completely understand how you feel.” (Nobody can know precisely how someone else feels.)

      “There must have been a reason.” (Maybe not, or at least not a reason that will ever be known or be understood by the bereaved left behind.

      Phrases That Do Help:

      “This has to be heart-renderingly horrible for you.” (Then the griever feels free to express the emotional discomfort he or she is feeling.)

      “It has got to be difficult to accept.” (Listen to the what’s making it difficult.)

      “You must have been very close to him.” (The survivor can then share stories from their relationship.)

      “We have no idea how you are feeling; I’ve never had a (spouse/child or parent) die. Will you tell me what you’re feeling?” (Then listen.)

      “I really miss (name of deceased). He was a unique woman. But that can’t begin to compare to how much you must be missing him. Share with me what it’s like.” (Then listen.)

      When You Are Helping Someone Deal With Their Grief, Don’t Think That You Are Expected To Have “Something to Say.” Rather prepare yourself for “What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?”

      Your presence is sufficient. Especially with new grief, your embrace, your touch and your sincere compassion are all that the griever may need. Make it a point to call or visit the survivor, regardless of how much time has passed after the death. The griever still appreciates knowing you care.


    • Take the First Step

      Don’t merely say, “If there’s anything you need, you can always ask.” Make suggestions and specific things you can do. For instance, you might say, “I would like to mow your yard next Saturday afternoon. Would that be okay with you?” or “May I go grocery shopping with you your first time out?” Each compassionate gesture reminds the bereaved he or she is not alone and keeps him/her from having to frequently reach out for help. It also lets your friend know you believe he or she is important.


    • Help Out With Every Day Concerns

      You might run errands, answer the phone, prepare meals or take care of the laundry. These normally small tasks seem insurmountable towards the grieving person, for grief noticeably diminishes physical vitality. An offer to commit an evening just watching tv together is usually very restoring, especially to someone now having to live alone.


    • Offer Assistance with the Children

      Kids really should not be shielded from grief, but on occasion they need a break from the sorrow at home, while their surviving parent might welcome an evening for grieving alone. Express your caring and support as well as give them an opening to explore their thoughts as well as their emotions. Don’t assume that a child who gives the appearance of calmness is free of pain.


    • Be a Good Listener

      A grieving individual desperately desires a listener. The need to “tell the story” decreases as the healing process progresses. With each time the story was told, the finality of death becomes more real little more. When feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, anxiety as well as sorrow are let out, accept those emotions. If the survivor keeps them bottled inside, they will bring to a screaming halt the healing process. Sometimes it is not only “What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?” but What Not To Say and When To keep Quiet.


    • Make it Possible for the Expression of Guilt Emotions

      A healthy response to hearing someone express grief is often to reply by saying, “It’s not your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done.” Don’t try to save individuals from their guilt emotions, because they are common and not unusual during the grief process.


    • Enable the Survivor to Grieve In His/Her Unique Way

      Avoid pushing the mourner to “get over” the loss. If he needs to go jogging or lift weights to let go of pent up energy and anxiety, enable him. If he wants to look photos, let him. We all release our sorrow in our unique way; keep away from being judgmental.


    • Allow For Mood Swings

      Expect good days along with not so good days for quite awhile. These highs and lows are a part of the process. These emotions have been compared to waves that wash in uncontrollably. Progressively the very good days grow to be far more often, but bad ones will occur even a year or more after the death of your loved one.


    • Remember That Recovery Takes Time

      Don’t assume the mourning person to have gotten “over it” within several weeks. Vast waves of emotion might pour through for numerous months and then, slowly, step by step, the intensity subsides. It does not happen immediately after the memorial service or even 2 months after it, as many individuals imagine. It’s often the case that the genuine grieving is just starting by then. It may well be far more than a year before you see the benefits of your caring as well as support — but when you see your friend smile again, the reward is there. If it seems that the mourner does not appear to be moving forward at all, despite everything you’ve done and the passage of time, throw out the idea of professional guidance to assist with learning new ways of dealing with the loss.


    • Share Your Memories

      During the initial few months after someone dies, there’s a tendency to focus on those left behind, while the survivors themselves are concentrating on the person who died. By sharing your stories of your experiences with the deceased, you’re giving a special gift to the mourning person. Your caring and your concern are shown not only by what you share, but in the fact that you just took the time for you to do so.


    • Give the Survivor All the Time He or She Needs

      Bear in mind that a heart-broken person will be under heavy amounts of stress; don’t press him to join in external pursuits until finally he’s ready. Trust him/her to know what is best.



bereavement advice

About the Author:
Amy is the President of the ULC Seminary and author of multiple books and courses on ceremonies and various spiritual belief systems, including ‘Weddings, Funerals and Rites of Passage’, as well as its sequel, ‘More Weddings, Funerals and Rites of Passage’, among others. She hopes you enjoyed “What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?”



TV Interview with Marty Tousley
KTOE Life After Loss ~ Radio Interview with Marty Tousley, Bereavement Counselor
AM 1420 Information Radio Listen to the KTOE Life After Loss radio interview with Marty Tousley


Bereavement Counselor Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT discusses dealing with grief the first year and beyond. She also discusses her online grief courses. Listen to radio interview here.



Marty Tousley, CNS-BC, FT, is the instructor of The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey and A Different Grief: Coping with Pet Loss.

We hope that this article has helped you when faced with the question, “What Do I Say in a Time of Grief?”


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