What to Say When Someone Dies

Helpful dos and don’ts when someone you know loses a loved one.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read

If you are a regular reader, you know that I lost my late husband, John, several years ago. More recently I lost my mother. I know from experience that death makes people uncomfortable. It makes us feel tongue-tied. It makes us feel helpless. Many people have no idea what to say, what to do, or how to help. So instead, they retreat. Sometimes people seem embarrassed that they retreated, so they disappear. Although understandable, that doesn't help.

What to Say When Someone Dies

Of course, there's no one right way to talk to someone that is going through the grieving process. However, in today’s article I can offer you a thing or two that just might help. 

Acknowledge the Loss

Every person who experiences a loss needs to know that their loved one matters. (Even if you didn't know the person who died.). If it's possible for you to attend services, then do it. It is comforting for mourners to see a roomful of people gathered to acknowledge their loss.

At times, the depths of grief can be unimaginable. It helps to show your support in many ways. I found simple, practical acts very helpful and supportive. When John died, one of my neighbors cut my lawn a few times; another neighbor brought in my trash cans; my sister did my laundry; friends brought me food and work colleagues completed many of my regular tasks.

Offer Your Sincere Support

It's OK to offer generic support. "Let me know if there anything I can do." Or “I’m sorry that you are going through this difficult time”. “Tell me how I can help.”

But perhaps a better idea is to offer specific support. For a friend you might say, "If you'd like I can bring over a few pre-cooked meals or I could run a few loads of laundry for you?" For a work colleague, you might say, "Would you like for me to run the weekly reports?" "Can I bring you some lunch?" Don’t push; just offer your support in the best way you can.

Another good way to acknowledge the loss is to send cards with handwritten notes, emails, articles and books on grief, or even support group meeting notices. And don't just send one. Send a few things over time to show the person that you recognize the significance of their loss, that you haven't forgotten about it, and that you care. I received a few cards a year or so after losing my husband, and that meant so much to me.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.