What to say when someone dies
Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say when someone dies, whether you were close to the deceased person or a distant acquaintance. And if you’ve never experienced the death of a loved one before, words of comfort following a loss won’t always come easily. In this guide, we’ll provide some thoughts and reflections to help you decide what to say when someone passes away.
Death is a difficult subject, and what you happen to say following a loss will depend greatly on the circumstances. All deaths are tragic, but if the death is unexpected, the shock may be greater still. Here are some commonly used things to say when someone dies:
- "I'm sorry for your loss. I'm here for you."
- "My condolences on your loved one's passing. May their memory bring you comfort.“
- “I extend my deepest sympathy to you. Reach out if you need anything.“
- "Thinking of you, sending love and support.“
- "We're saddened by the news. Our hearts go out to you and your family.“
- "Heartfelt condolences. They'll be deeply missed, never forgotten.“
- "You're not alone. Lean on loved ones, take time to heal.“
There is no golden rule regarding what to say when someone is grieving, but most would agree that it’s important to say something. The enormity of a loss can be overwhelming for the bereaved, so acknowledging the death is a good way of showing your support.
What to write in a sympathy message
It’s one thing to know what to say when someone dies, but expressing thoughts on paper doesn’t come naturally to everyone.
When you’re offering your sympathy, some turns of phrase could be better suited to written language where you have the opportunity to reflect. With this in mind, here are some general ideas for what to write in a sympathy card. These could be used in various situations, such as writing to bereaved family members following the loss of a friend, colleague or acquaintance.
- “My thoughts are with you at this difficult time”
- “We are heartbroken by this loss”
- “You are in our thoughts”.
However, the context is important. If you’re writing a message following the loss of a close family member or friend, your message is likely to be highly personal, and few could advise you on the best choice of words. And of course the nature of the death – and whether it was sudden or unexpected – may influence what you might choose to write.
What to write on funeral flowers
Funeral flowers often include a small card which gives you the opportunity to include a short and concise message. Examples could include:
- “Forever in our hearts”
- “In loving memory”
- “Gone but not forgotten”
What to write in a condolence email
These days, we’re just as likely to write a message of condolence in an email than on a paper card.
Emails are often sent in a professional context, so it’s important to maintain a formal but friendly tone when you express your sympathies. If you’re writing to a client who you don’t know personally, you could try the following:
- “I would like to share my condolences”
- “I was so sorry to hear of your recent bereavement”
- “On behalf of all of us, let me say how deeply sorry we are to hear of your news”.
Of course, if the person is a close friend, family member or colleague, you could write your email in a more personalised way.
What not to say when someone has died
Even the most well-intentioned people can end up saying crass or insensitive things when someone dies. While some comments might sound unambiguously harsh, here are some which mourners themselves have highlighted as well-meaning, but the wrong thing to say:
- “I know exactly how you feel” – everyone experiences grief in a personal way, so rather than reference other sad stories, it’s important to put the sole focus on the bereaved person and their loss.
- “You’re still young. You’ll find someone else” – referencing someone’s age as a reason to be cheerful will come across as inappropriate.
- “I didn’t call because I thought you wanted some time alone” – sending a message of condolence is always appreciated, whether it’s a phone call or even a text message, so that the bereaved person knows that others are thinking of them.
- “At least you have other family” – there is no ‘bright side’ when someone experiences a tragic loss, and words that may sound encouraging at face value can feel clumsy to the bereaved.
And of course, it’s important to be mindful that some cultures have different ways of talking about death, and may prefer to avoid the topic, or use different words of comfort after a loss. But generally, the above examples would be considered inappropriate things to say when someone dies.
What to say to someone who is dying
If someone is terminally ill, knowing what to say to someone in their last days is understandably difficult. Perhaps the most important advice is not necessarily to talk, but to listen. They may wish to discuss their emotions, or fears, or perhaps even share fond memories. By listening, you can create the space for your friend or family member to talk honestly, and give them comfort in their final days. And of course, being in the room with a loved one during their final moments is the hardest time of all to know what to say. These moments are deeply personal, but rest assured there is nothing wrong with sharing your raw emotions, and crying is a very normal reaction.
What to say to someone who lost their mum or dad
The loss of a parent can be devastating, and may take time for anyone to come to terms with. While many of the usual ground rules about words of comfort following a loss also apply here, it’s worth remembering that everyone grieves differently, and the death of a mum or dad can conjure all sorts of personal emotions. It’s important not to ‘second-guess’ how someone is feeling; for example, just because a parent was ‘old’ doesn’t mean the grief is any less palpable, and even if the mourner wasn’t ‘close’ to the mother or father, the emotions can be raw and unpredictable. Think carefully about which words of comfort will be most appreciated, and if in doubt, “I’m so sorry” is one of the most reliable things to say when someone has lost their mum or dad.
Sympathy messages for the loss of a child
The loss of a child is a devastating event that no family should have to endure. Nevertheless, when such a tragedy occurs, the words of comfort from loved ones and well-wishers could provide some much-needed support at a difficult time.
In these instances, you may wish to find words which express the enormity of the loss. Here are some ideas:
- “There are no words that can convey our sorrow”
- “We are profoundly saddened by this news”
- “You have our deepest sympathy and condolences”.
Additionally, following the loss of a child you may decide that actions speak louder than words, and offer floral tributes, teddy bears or candles by way of condolence.
Other ideas for what to write in a sympathy message
There are countless situations where your words of sympathy and support could be invaluable for the bereaved.
- If someone has lost their husband or wife, you may wish to offer your deepest condolences and offer to assist in a way that is of practical help.
- If a work colleague has passed away, you could share some of your fondest memories so that the bereaved partner can appreciate how valued they were.
- If someone has died in sudden or expected circumstances, you could express your profound shock at the news, and consider rallying around to make a generous gesture, such as a fundraiser for the bereaved family.
- If a community has experienced a tragedy, you could use collective language to express solidarity, such as “we will support you”.
- If someone has died in old age and the death is expected, you should of course offer your sympathy, while taking the opportunity to celebrate their long life and the impact they had on you and others.
Comforting words for the loss of a pet
And of course, there are many animal lovers who experience grief following the loss of their precious dogs, cats and other companions. In these contexts, you may be able to offer some words of reassurance using language that is perhaps more joyful and direct than when a person dies.
- “You gave them a brilliant life”
- “You had such a special bond”
- “We’ll miss [pet’s name]”.
Other ways to offer sympathy when someone dies
Sometimes it’s preferable to avoid writing “if there’s anything I can do”, and instead take matters into your own hands. A bereaved person will be experiencing grief in their own personal way and may not have the physical or mental energy to request help. Here are some ideas for how you and your friends or family members could provide comfort:
- Batch cooking, so they can focus on other tasks and have time to rest
- Helping them with logistical tasks like making a life insurance claim
- Doing their shopping or housework
- Offering transportation or hospitality
- Looking after any children if you’re close to the family
- Taking them out for a change of scenery
- Offering to listen and talk
- Fundraising to generate financial support or a special tribute.
Getting support when someone has died
A bereavement can be hard on many people, not just the family of the deceased. If you or someone you know need support following a death, the NHS provides information on how to cope with loss, from health professional hotlines to free mindfulness apps, while mental health charity Mind publishes a list of bereavement support services.