The 8 best things you can say to someone grieving

I have found myself avoiding contacting grieving friends as I have been insecure about hurting them by what I say, or just unsure what to say at all. . I found this article by Christy Heitger-Ewing, freelance writer at the Huffington Post, a really useful guide to helping a friend while they are grieving. 

When someone close to you dies, you initially receive a good deal of advice and support. Some of it is helpful, some not. This piece by Christy Heitger-Ewing, writer for Huffington Post, offers suggestions for helpful things you can say to someone who is newly grieving.

  1. “I feel your pain.”
    This is not the same thing as, “I know how you feel,” which is a statement I would avoid uttering because even if you’ve shared a similar circumstance, everyone’s journey is uniquely their own. The words, “I feel your pain,” however, is an expression of empathy

In the book Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love: Daily Meditations to Help You Through the Grieving Process, authors Raymond R. Mitsch and Lynn Brookside maintain that the words “I feel your pain” are the four most helpful words uttered to a grieving person.

“No other single sentence does more to break down walls of isolation formed by deep sorrow and regret. When those words are merged with a touch or an embrace, they mend the heart and lift up downcast eyes. They tell the griever he is not alone in his grief.”

  1. “How about a hug?”
    I get that not everyone is touchy-feeling, but when I was newly grieving, I felt starved for hugs. I wanted to hug the UPS man who came to my door, my spin instructor after class. I wanted to hug my neighbor and her little dog, too. It was almost as if I was a china doll broken into pieces, and every hug offered a smidge of glue to help piece me back together.

Two weeks after my mom died, my son had an overnight zoo trip, with my husband a chaperone. I packed them up and waved goodbye. As they pulled out, an intense sense of loneliness settled into my soul. I remember going through my phone contacts, calling neighbors until one answered. “Can you come over and give me a hug?” I asked.

I probably sounded pitiful, but that’s what I needed right then and there. A hug wasn’t going to take away all my pain, but it helped get me through that difficult moment.

  1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
    It’s direct. It’s honest. It gets to the point. It shows you care. Patti Fitzpatrick, a grief support facilitator and bereavement minister, notes, “Two simple but extremely helpful and healing solutions that anyone can do is to 1) show up, and 2) say, “I’m sorry for your loss. Period.”
  1. “I’m here for you.”
    Grief makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s hard to see someone you care about torn up emotionally. It’s natural to want to fix them, but that’s just not possible. The most helpful thing you can do is to offer to be there for someone hurting in whatever capacity they need.

Ben Keckler, the minister who runs my grief support group, explained this notion beautifully when he said, “When you’re grieving, you don’t want to be around people who will see through you. You want to be around people who will see you through.”

  1. “I’ll bring you some lasagna next Tuesday.”
    This is just an example. Offering to do something specific is an alternative to the usual phrase: “Let me know if you need anything.” People make this kind of open-ended gesture because they want to help and are not sure what the griever needs. But for those newly grieving, they often don’t know what they need, either — or they don’t have the energy to figure it out and then call you to request it.

That’s why it’s better to just make a specific offer like, “I’m headed to the grocery. I can bring you some milk and bread if you’d like.”

  1. “Would you like to talk about your loved one?”
    It’s natural to worry that bringing up the subject of the person who died, will make the griever sad. Actually, the opposite is true. When a person loses someone close to them, they continue to think about their loved one constantly. After several months have passed, the griever is astounded at how rarely people mention the person who died. It’s heartbreaking, really. So when you bring up a memory or share a story about the person who passed away, it lets the griever know others remember their loved one, too, and that’s really comforting.
  2. Ask, ‘How are you doing?’ Then really listen for the true answer.
    Making it clear that you’re asking for a real and honest answer and not just expecting the trite response of, “Oh, I’m fine,” promotes healing.

Keckler says that “fine” can be an acronym for “Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional” – certainly an apt description for those who are newly grieving because their feelings truly are all over the map. Sorting through them can be difficult, so it’s nice to have people in their life with whom they can share their genuine feelings.

A few months into my grief, I had figured out who my “safe” people were. Through conversations and interactions, I could tell which of my friends were okay with my being my authentic self and which were not. The “safe” ones checked in with me regularly. They sat with me and let me cry. They didn’t mind when I called them sobbing so hard that they could barely discern a word I was saying. They let me share openly, and that’s what I needed.

  1. Say nothing.
    I’m not suggesting you avoid the grieving person or that you should pretend you don’t know their loved one has died. That behavior would be hugely hurtful. I’m suggesting that you not be afraid to close your mouth and open your heart. Hold their hand. Offer them a
    tissue. Make a pot of coffee. Ask if they’d like to go for a walk. Let them lead the conversation. Often the biggest gift you can give a grieving person is permission to speak freely.

Mitsch and Brookside write, “So many of us are taught not to talk about our wounds. We absorb the message, spoken or tacit, that ‘talking doesn’t help,’ ‘weeping doesn’t change things,’ ‘talking about it will just make you sad.’ None of those statements is true. Talking about our sorrow does not increase our sorrow; it purges our sorrow.”

Read Christy Heitger-Ewing’s award-winning book Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat. Visit her author website.


  • Your articles on dealing with grief are so inspiring and helpful, especially the 8 points to help others in their grief. Having lost a son and husband I do know that at the time I didn’t know what I needed or wanted from friends, but on hind sight, this advice would have been helpful to friends who wanted to help but felt awkward. Even after the years have passed and at times you are still battling with these voids in your life, the hugs, good listeners, and more importantly when friends who have, not forgotten, but just moved on with their busy lives, take time out and are comfortable to talk to you about your loved ones, does help to heal knowing you are not the only one missing them and that they are still remembered..
    On the other side, a friend who lost a daughter in law to cancer is trying to help her son through his grief, and I believe some of these points will go a long way to help her. I shall certainly try to remember this advice to comfort and help others who are grieving..
    Many thanks,

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