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Offering Support: What to Say and Do When Someone Loses a Loved One


young people viewed from behind having a group hug
Offering support during times of loss or grief can be very meaningful to the mourner

Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult and painful experience, and knowing what to say or do to offer support can feel overwhelming. When a person is mourning, they are often very sensitive and it can be hard to know what to say. As a friend or family member, you might feel awkward or uncomfortable with how intensely the other person feels. In times of grief, a few simple words or actions can provide immense comfort, but they can also hurt someone who's in the throes of grief. In this article, I offer some guidance on what to say and do when someone loses a loved one. This can allow you to be a source of support during their most challenging moments.

Everyone grieves differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Grief is basically love that has nowhere to go. So, it’s normal and natural for someone to express their love and to feel sad that recipient can no longer receive it in the flesh. However, by being present, offering condolences, and listening without judgment, you can create a safe space for the bereaved to express their emotions and share their memories.

Making practical gestures like bringing food, helping with household tasks, babysitting or pet sitting if the person has children or pets, or offering a shoulder to lean on can show your support in tangible ways. This article will provide you with further suggestions and tips on how to navigate these difficult conversations and situations with empathy and compassion.

By understanding the impact of loss and learning effective ways to offer support, you can play a crucial role in helping a grieving person feel loved and supported during their journey of healing.

It helps if you understand grief before offering support to mourners

Losing a loved one is a deeply personal experience, and understanding the grieving process can help you provide better support. Grief is a complex and individual journey that involves various emotions, physical sensations (including pain and fatigue), and mental states.

We often think of sadness or depressive symptoms when we think of grief, but irritability, confusion, anger, frustration, and fear can also be present. Sometimes the person might seem like they're "okay" and not feeling a lot, but other times they might seem like they're taking two steps backward and having a lot of feelings. Additionally, the mourner can appear spaced out, confused, forgetful, or have difficulty concentrating. It's important to recognize that these experiences come and go, and the person doesn't have much control over how or when they appear. It's not uncommon for the mourner to think that they're "going crazy."


Judgment, impatience, and imposing your views of how they should grieve are the LAST things a mourner needs. If you think they are doing it too fast or too slow, to intensely or not enough, that is not for you to decide. The person has their grief journey, and you have yours.

What to say and what not to say to a mourner

When offering support, it's vital to acknowledge and validate the grieving person's emotions. Avoid phrases like "I know how you feel" or "Time heals all wounds," as they can minimize their pain. Instead, express your empathy by saying things like "I can't imagine what you're going through, but I'm here for you." This allows them to feel heard and understood. The last thing a person needs is to be told that you expect them to "get over it" quickly. The mourner has enough of that already from society, thank you very much.


Saying the name of the deceased or person they lost usually helps the mourner. Take their lead. If they’re not ready for that, let it be. But often people avoid mentioning their name or memories of the person because they’re worried how the mourner will take it. It’s usually comforting to know that you miss the deceased too.

What not to say or do when someone loses a loved one

Losing a loved one can be an isolating experience. offering support is crucial in helping the bereaved feel less alone. Simply being present and available can make a big impact. Reach out to the grieving person and let them know you are there for them. It's essential to avoid making assumptions about their needs or pushing them to talk if they are not ready.

During this time, it's important to prioritize the grieving person's feelings over your own. Avoid phrases like "Everything happens for a reason," "God only takes the best ones," or "They are in a better place," as they may not provide the comfort intended. No one really knows why one person might die at age 3 of cancer and another person, who smoked and drank alcohol all their life, died at 93. Instead, offer reassurance by saying things like "I'm here to listen whenever you need to talk" or "I'm here to support you in any way I can." If the person wants to pray or talk about God with you, let them, but take their lead. Don't impose your religious or spiritual views on the mourner.


Avoid phrases like "You should be over it by now" or "It's been a long time." Instead, acknowledge that grief is a lifelong process and that you are there for them no matter how much time has passed. Encourage them to share memories and stories whenever they feel comfortable and be a compassionate listener as they continue to navigate their grief.


How to express condolences and offer support

While it's essential to offer support, it's equally important to be mindful of what not to say or do when someone loses a loved one. Avoid minimizing their pain by saying things like "You should be grateful for the time you had together" or "At least they are no longer suffering." Such statements can invalidate their grief and make them feel guilty for their emotions.

It's crucial to avoid comparing their loss to others or sharing stories of your own grief, as this can shift the focus away from their experience. Each person's grief is unique, and it's important to respect and honor that individuality. Additionally, refrain from offering unsolicited advice or trying to fix their pain. Instead, offer a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on without judgment.

Expressing condolences and offering support can be challenging, but a few thoughtful words can go a long way. Start by acknowledging the loss and expressing your sympathy. Simple phrases like "I'm so sorry for your loss" or "My heart goes out to you and your family" can provide comfort. If you knew the deceased, share a positive memory or highlight a special quality that you admired about them.


Listening is a powerful way to offer support, so encourage the grieving person to talk about their loved one and share their memories. Avoid interrupting or offering solutions; instead, provide a safe space for them to express their emotions freely. Follow their lead and be attentive to their needs, offering support without imposing your own opinions.

Supporting someone through anniversaries, holidays, and special occasions

In addition to emotional support, practical gestures can be immensely helpful during the grieving process. Simple acts of kindness, such as bringing food or offering to run errands, can alleviate some of the burdens the grieving person may be facing. Consider asking if they need help with specific tasks like cleaning the house, making funeral arrangements, or taking care of children or pets. Don't just do this when they first lose their loved one, as many other well-meaning people often do. Offer the person support on a regular basis. Don't forget they exist after the initial mourning period.

Remember that grief doesn't have an expiration date, so continue to offer support even after the initial shock has subsided. Check in on the grieving person regularly and offer your assistance whenever needed. Even offering to go for a walk or have a cup of coffee can mean a lot. Small gestures like sending a thoughtful card, a bouquet of flowers, or a comforting gift can remind them that they are not alone and that you are still there for them.


African American man putting his hand on another person's shoulder
There are many ways to offer support and comfort to mourners.

Long-term support and staying connected

Anniversaries, holidays, and special occasions can be particularly challenging for someone who has lost a loved one. These times often intensify feelings of grief and longing. As a support person, be mindful of these dates and offer your presence and understanding. Reach out to the bereaved person, acknowledge the significance of the occasion, and ask how they would like to commemorate it. Inviting them for holidays like Thanksgiving or New Year's Eve can also show them that you care.


Grief is not a short-lived experience, and long-term support is essential. As time passes, the initial outpouring of support often dwindles. The grieving person's need for connection and understanding remains. Try to stay connected by checking in regularly, even if it's just a simple text message to let them know you are thinking of them.

Offer to accompany them to events or gatherings if they feel comfortable attending. Alternatively, suggest other ways to honor their loved one's memory, like visiting their grave, creating a memorial, or participating in a charity event. Be sensitive to their needs and provide them with options that allow them to navigate these difficult moments in a way that feels right for them. Just as importantly, accept "no" if they don't feel up for it. They might not always feel up to being around people, and it's okay for them to sit one out.

Providing emotional support and being a good listener

You can provide valuable support by being a good listener. Create a safe environment where they feel comfortable expressing their emotions without fear of judgment. Avoid trying to offer solutions or "fix" their pain; instead, validate their emotions and offer your presence. Listen attentively and allow them to share their memories, thoughts, and feelings. Offer gentle prompts or follow-up questions to encourage them to open up further. Sometimes, just being there and holding space for their pain can be enough. Remember, silence can be powerful, and your mere presence can be a source of comfort and solace


Self-care when supporting someone who is grieving

Supporting someone who is grieving can be emotionally draining. It's crucial to prioritize self-care. Take time to recharge and process your emotions. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist to help you navigate your own feelings. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and set healthy boundaries to prevent burnout.


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The power of empathy and compassion in supporting those who have lost a loved one

Supporting someone who is mourning is a delicate balancing act. You want to let them know you’re there for them but not say insensitive things that make them feel more isolated and hurt. Remember that you cannot fix or take away the pain of the grieving person, but you can offer your support and understanding. By taking care of yourself, you ensure that you are in the best position to provide the support they need.


If you think your grieving friend or loved one could use additional, professional support, please have them call me at 661-233-6771.


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