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 so sorry to hear about your loss''
- “My sincere condolences”
- “You have my deepest sympathy”
- “We’re all thinking of you”
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 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.
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.
People to talk to
CRUSE Bereavement Care - Somewhere to turn to when a loved one dies, T: 0844 477 9400, www.cruse.org.uk
Samaritans - Contact Samaritans anytime for confidential support, www.samaritans.org
Macmillan - Cancer support every step of the way. T: 0808 808 0000, www.macmillan.org.uk
British Heart Foundation - Further information about heart disease, www.bhf.org.uk
Practical support when someone dies
UK Government website - Public services all in one place.
Macmillan Financial Support
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If someone is worried about money, work or treatment, or just wants to speak about whatever matters to them, they will listen and support.
T: 0808 808 0000