If you have ever experienced a loss, you understand that there are very few words anyone can say to make the pain feel any less.
The intense emotions that accompany the loss of a loved one often makes others feel uncomfortable about offering support. But don’t let discomfort prevent you from reaching out to those closest to you.
As you prepare for the funeral or memorial service, the following conversation starters are sure to give you inspiration for what to say to the people you love.
1. "I am so sorry for your loss."
You may feel at a loss for words when someone you know has experienced the loss of a loved one. Fear of saying the “wrong” words might turn you away from offering any support at all.
This phrase is short and simple. It shows that you recognize the intense pain of this situation, which can help surviving family members and friends feel less isolated in their grief experience.
2. "My thoughts are with you and your family."
It’s common for those grieving the loss of a loved one to feel isolated. So it’s important to remind them that you care about them and are thinking about them during this difficult time. This reassures them that they’re not alone in their grief, which can aid the healing process.
3. "I'm just a phone call away."
The grieving process can vary from one person to the next. While some people choose to cope with grief on their own, others find comfort in sharing their thoughts and feelings.
A small gesture—like a phone call—can reassure them that they don’t have to go through this alone. Let a grieving friend or family member know that you are available to talk any time they need a listening ear. You may be surprised on how much your check-ins mean to them.
4. "I feel so lucky to have known them."
While a funeral or memorial service can be extremely emotional, it’s important for grievers to celebrate the life lost. So, what better way to leave a lasting legacy than to share touching experiences?
Every person attending the services holds unique memories of the lost loved one. Taking the time to share personal stories can change the aura of the room and help those grieving feel more connected to the deceased.
5. "I'm here to help. Is there anything I can do?"
It can be difficult for grieving people to ask for help. They may feel guilty about all the attention they have been receiving lately, or simply because they don’t have the energy or motivation to reach out.
When you offer to help, know that they may have trouble accepting it at first. Make it easy for them by offering specific suggestions:
Drop off a meal.
Stop by the grocery store.
Take the dog for a walk.
Help with housework.
This is a great way for you to check in on them and see how they’re doing following services.
6. "I'm here to listen."
Listening is a critical component in expressing condolences because it gives the surviving loved ones the permission to express what’s on their mind.
Oftentimes, just being present at a funeral or memorial service helps them mourn. However, if an individual engages you in conversation, let them speak first. The ability to listen to what the grieving person is saying could be significant in aiding the healing process.
Take time to listen to what they’re saying and respond when you feel it’s appropriate. Reach out to hold their hand and give them a hug. Being present is a sign of comfort for the bereaved.
What Not to Say at a Funeral
While you want to say the right thing to those who are grieving, it isn’t always easy to find words in the moment. To help you out, here are a few phrases we recommend staying away from after a loss:
Don’t take it so hard.
I know how you feel.
You’ll get over it.
Don’t question God.
It could’ve been worse.
Remember to give thanks in all things.
They are better off now.
At least they were able to live a good life.
Funeral and memorial services can become a whirlwind of events. Many folks come to pay respects and offer their condolences, but when the services end, that doesn’t mean the grief does.
Living life with a void of that person around can take days, months or even years after the funeral or memorial service to get used to. During what is likely the saddest times for survivors, it’s important to know what you can say and do to offer comfort after services end:
Call a few weeks after the funeral to make plans with this person.
Gift them with a plant or tree that can be put in their yard in memory of their lost loved one.
Send a “thinking of you” note.
Invite them over during the holiday season, so they do not have to spend it alone.
Keep these conversation topics in mind the next time you attend a funeral or memorial service to honor the deceased and show your support to their loved ones.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in 2017, and has been updated to be more comprehensive.
Considers it an honor as a Certified Celebrant to listen to life stories, and then design and conduct meaningful tributes. Cathy also trains celebrants nationally, equipping them to share those legacies in ways that comfort and enlighten. Honorably serving Busch families since 2004.