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

Share Your Happy Memories

I noticed that once a month or two has passed, many people don't want to "bring it up." They fear they might make things worse. But the reality is the death of a loved one is never far from your mind anyway. In fact, if you have positive memories of the person it can help to share those memories. I learned so many things about my mother and John that I never knew: things that made me proud, things that made me smile, and things that helped me feel closer to them even though they were gone. Don't be afraid to share your memories. These emotional gifts are precious.


Rest assured, it's ok to say, "I don't know what to say."


In the face of death, or even sometimes sickness, many people, including myself, feel at a loss for words. But rest assured, It's OK to say, "I don't know what to say," or "I can't imagine what you are going through," or "It must be horrible." By the way, it's not a good idea to say you know how it feels. Every situation is different and every person experiences grief differently. Comparing your experience to theirs will likely just make the person feel more alone.

Say Nothing At All

Sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. You don’t have to give advice or think of clever things to say to make them smile. You don’t have to discuss feelings. You don’t need to have the answers. Sometimes, all you need to do is be there--to listen.

Sometimes you will only hear silence. That’s OK. Invite them to lunch, dinner, or your home. Sit quietly together. Call them every two weeks to leave a message that says you are thinking about them. Even if they never return your call, they will know you care. Let them grieve in their own way. Be there; don’t retreat. Don’t disappear.

Acknowledge the loss. Let them know you care. Let them know the loss did not go unnoticed. Let them know you want to help by offering specific practical help. Share you happy memories, or perhaps say nothing at all. Help them any way you can. In the spirit of El Dia de los Muertos, celebrate and honor those who have died.

This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication, your success is my business.

My audiobook is called The Public Speaker’s Guide To Ace Your Interview: 6 Steps To Get The Job You Want. If you know someone that is interviewing, buy this audiobook for them. It sells for just $5.95 on iTunes. Think about it, for the price of a cup of coffee and a bagel, you’re helping your friend get a job! Now that’s a great gift, right?

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Funeral image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.