How to Say the Right Thing When Comforting a Grieving Heart

Best and Worst Things to Say to the Bereaved

Bite Your Tongue
Don't judge, don't criticize, don't give unsolicited advice. PeskyMonkey/Getty Images

 Although death is part of everyone's life, coping with grief is one of the most uncomfortable and difficult experiences you will ever face. When you are a friend or family member of someone who is mourning the loss of their beloved spouse, you may find yourself unsure about how to share your feelings, fearful of saying the wrong thing, and uncomfortable about what you should do. 

What is Most Needed

Showing up and being present to the widowed is what is most needed.

While you know you want to say something that will comfort, sometimes words just don't seem to be enough when dealing with such an intense grief. 

When you try to avoid clichés and common platitudes, it can be difficult to find the right words that will convey what you want to say. Words can accomplish so much, but so does listening and being present. 

Remember you can't fix your friend.  Along with being present, you can validate the feelings of someone grieving. You can provide comfort. You can do the best you can in offering consolation. Here's help in knowing what to say and what not to say when someone you care about is coping with the loss of a loved one.

Comforting Words to Say to Someone Who is Grieving the Loss of a Spouse

  • "I'm so sorry."
  • "I'm here for you."
  • "I don't know what to say."
  • "I love you."
  • "I'm sorry for your loss."
  • "My condolences."
  • "I'm listening."
  • "I'm very sorry you are going through this."
  • "You are in my thoughts and prayers."
  • "I wish there was something I could say or do to ease your pain."
  • "Before saying anything else, I want you to know how sorry I am to hear of your loss."
  • "My heart goes out to you during this period of grief and readjustment."
  • "Is there anything you want to talk about?"
  • "He will be missed deeply."
  • "You are not alone."

Or say nothing at all and give the comfort of your presence. I found it consoling when people shared with me a favorite fond memory of Bob. These memories brought me peace.

These Comments Are Examples of What Not to Say to Anyone Grieving

  • "Everything happens for a reason."
  • "At least she's no longer in pain."
  • "I know how you feel."
  • "It was her time."
  • "You must be strong."
  • "This too shall pass."
  • "Time heals all wounds."
  • "Try to focus on your blessings."
  • "It was God's will."
  • "Things could be worse."
  • "Only the good die young."
  • "It was part of God's plan."
  • "God needed him more than you."
  • "You'll marry again someday."
  • "You'll meet someone else soon."
  • "You're still young."
  • "It's time to move on."
  • "Why don't you ....?"
  • "He's in a better place."
  • "What are your future plans?"
  • "She was old enough to live a full life."
  • "How are you?"
  • "God needed another angel."
  • "You'll find someone else."
  • "Everything is going to be okay."
  • "You'll be with him again someday."
  • "I guess you were meant to be alone."
  • "What happened?"
  • "God never gives us more than we can handle."
  • "At least you were prepared."
  • "You must keep busy during this difficult time."
  • "Cheer up. Your husband wouldn't want you to be sad."
  • "How did he die?"
  • "She looks so natural."
  • "Life goes on."
  • "At least you had 40 years together."
  • "You'll feel better soon."
  • "You knew it was coming. You had time to prepare for his death."
  • "Don't cry."
  • "Isn't it time to get over it?"

Some More Don'ts

Don't share your own story or a story about someone else's loss or what other people did when widowed.

Don't share your religious opinions. Keep them to yourself unless the mourner bring the topic up. 

Don't talk about the stages of grief.

Don't criticize

Don't say "Call me if you need anything." During the initial numbness, a widow or widower usually doesn't know what they need or want. A few days after the funeral or service, you can ask if there is anything you can do, but be specific and make sure to ask again every few weeks.  Give real, tangible suggestions.

"Can I mow the lawn?" "Okay if I get us each a coffee?" "When is the best time on Thursday to bring a meal?"

Don't give unsolicited advice or solutions no matter how well-meaning they are. There are no easy answers after someone dies.

Once Again

Your presence is what counts. Be there and listen. Silence is okay. Make eye contact. Keep your conversation short. 

Remember too, when you see someone again, you don't have to offer your condolences over and over again.