At a Loss for Words When Friends Grieve?

by | Apr 25, 2017

Last week we talked about what NOT to say—things that might make your friend feel less than comforted. For example, bromides like “Things work out for the best,” and “It’s God’s will,” could provoke a hostile response at worst or at best, may simply not be helpful. People grieve in different ways and you need to honor their sorrow.

So what can you say?

  • Especially if you’re feeling awkward and tongue-tied, maybe just being quiet for the time being is best. When you are less overcome yourself—after all, you are affected by this death, too—then you can express your care and support. But sometimes just a hug and a quiet nod is enough to let someone know you are with them.
  • I’m Sorry for Your Loss. Yes, this is another bromide, but a useful one. When words fail, and nothing you can think of sounds right, “I’m sorry for your loss” is a good fallback. It’s always appropriate because it’s authentic. This is how you feel, and you are telling your friend you sympathize.
  • Share Memories. If you had a relationship with the deceased, think of a fond memory you have and share it with your friend. Sometimes those who are grieving learn tidbits about their loved ones from such stories and they are always grateful to have them. It validates the feeling that the deceased was a valuable person who will be missed.
  • What Can I Do for You? If you make this offer sincerely, and follow-up with suggestions of how you might help, this reminds your friend you care about him. Many people find making and delivering casseroles or soup or some kind of food is a way of demonstrating love. It also saves the grieving person from having to think about mundane chores like cooking. Try to think of what would truly be helpful. Maybe shoveling snow or mowing the lawn would be more useful. Put yourself in your friend’s shoes to think about what you can do.
  • I’ll Check in with You to See How You’re Doing. Sometimes in the rush of funeral activity, the bereaved person can’t think how anyone can help. Their mind is full of details and arrangements and it’s only days or weeks later when the enormity of their loss hits them. That’s when a phone call from you would be most welcome.
  • I’m Here for You. This is an invitation for your grieving friend to take his time to mourn and get his bearings—because you are here for him now, and you will be in the future. He doesn’t have to avail himself of your help immediately. He might not even know what he needs right now. And it’s comforting to know he doesn’t have to rush.

There’s no doubt the death of a friend or a friend’s loved one is difficult. But if you speak from your heart and offer sincere condolences, you will offer the comfort you wish to give.


Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here:


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