It’s so hard to know what to say to people grieving at a funeral. How can mere words offer comfort to someone who just lost a spouse of 60 years? What do you say to someone who lost a child? How can words express your heartbreak when speaking to a young child who recently lost a parent?
Jump ahead to these sections:
- ‘I’m Sorry for Your Loss’ Alternatives to Say to a Friend
- ‘I’m Sorry for Your Loss’ Alternatives to Say to a Family Member
- ‘I’m Sorry for Your Loss’ Alternatives to Say to an Acquaintance
- ‘I’m Sorry for Your Loss’ Alternatives to Say to a Coworker
- ‘I’m Sorry for Your Loss’ Alternatives to Say to a Partner or Spouse
You want to express your condolences, but how do you do it without sounding like everyone else? You may hear the people ahead of you in line at the visitation saying, "Sorry for your loss," and you know that the family members probably have heard that phrase hundreds of times that night. What else is there to say? Sympathy messages are hard to articulate. Let us help.
Tip: If someone you know recently lost a loved one, our post-loss checklist can help them sort through the complicated tasks and challenges they might be facing.
'I'm Sorry for Your Loss' Alternatives to Say to a Friend
Going to the funeral of one of your friend's family members is a kind thing to do. You may want to make a memorial contribution to the deceased's favorite charity. You also may want to deliver farm-fresh sympathy flowers or bring a sympathy gift for your friend.
Here are some things that you can say at the funeral (or write in a sympathy card) instead of, "I'm sorry for your loss":
- "I've been thinking about you often."
- "I'm sorry you're going through this."
- "How can I help you?"
- "I'm here whenever you need me."
- "I'm sorry."
1. “I've been thinking about you often.”
Perhaps your friend's family member suffered from a long illness. Maybe this illness made it impossible for you to spend any time with your friend. Let this person know that he or she was in your thoughts daily.
2. “I'm so sorry you’re going through this.”
Whether your friend suffered the loss of a parent, child, or spouse, he or she is going through one of the most challenging times of his or her life. Let your friend know that you understand that this is a difficult time.
3. “How can I help you?”
Instead of saying, "Let me know if I can do something," ask about specific tasks. Give suggestions, such as, "Let me pick up your kids from school next week." or "I'm bringing over dinner for you and your family on Sunday night."
4. “I'm here whenever you need me.”
Your friend may be so overwhelmed with grief that having a social engagement seems downright impossible. You may not want to pressure your friend to spend time together. Instead, let him or her know that you are available when needed.
5. “I'm sorry.”
Although these two words are the beginning of the phrase, "I'm sorry for your loss," they actually say more. They say that you are sorry that your friend lost someone important. They say that you are sorry that your friend has to keep it together during the funeral when all she probably wants to do is collapse. Saying "I'm sorry" covers it all.
'I'm Sorry for Your Loss' Alternatives to Say to a Family Member
What do we say to others in our family when we are also suffering from a loss? How do we acknowledge when others are hurting when we are mourning, too?
Here are some ideas of things to say to family members instead of "I'm sorry for your loss":
- "I love you."
- "I'm glad we have each other for support."
- "You are important to me."
- "I can't imagine going through this without you."
- "I'm proud of you."
6. “I love you.”
Even if your family members are not usually demonstrative about their feelings, perhaps this is the right time to tell others how you feel. We will not live forever. Let others know that you love them while you still can.
7. “I'm glad we have each other for support.”
A death in the family can draw family members closer together. Let others in your family know that you will not pull away after the death of a loved one. Instead, let them know that you use the death to become closer.
8. “You are important to me.”
Some families drift apart after losing the matriarch or patriarch. Let the other family members know that you value their relationships.
9. “I can't imagine going through this without you.”
You find out how important it is to have close family and friends when you go through a crisis or family death. During your darkest hours, you will feel solace knowing that others are there for you.
10. “I'm proud of you.”
Going through an emotional upheaval sometimes brings out the best in people. But it sometimes brings out the worst in people instead. Let your family members know that you are proud of how they act during this difficult time.
'I'm Sorry for Your Loss' Alternatives to Say to an Acquaintance
Throughout your life, you may attend the funerals of coworkers or friends. Perhaps these people were important to you, but you may not have known their family members. It’s nice to go to your friend's funeral to pay your respects, but it’s sometimes difficult to know what to say to a person you’ve never met before in your life.
Here are some examples of what to say to an acquaintance instead of "sorry for your loss":
- "I worked with your mom for 20 years, and she was an amazing woman."
- "I'm going to miss your brother so much!"
- "Everyone at church loved your sister. Her smile could light up a room."
- "Your mom had terrific things to say about you."
- "Things won't be the same without your mother-in-law."
11. “I worked with your mom for 20 years, and she was an amazing woman.”
You might find it necessary to introduce yourself to the family members of the person who died. These individuals may be craving to hear stories about what their mom was like at work. Tell them funny or positive stories that describe what their loved one was like in her professional life.
12. “I'm going to miss your brother so much!”
You may have to explain how you knew the deceased. Again, share stories of positive interactions you had with the person through the years.
13. “Everyone at church loved your sister. Her smile could light up a room.”
When a person loses someone close to him, he wants to hear how that person was important in other people's lives. Tell the survivors what the deceased meant to you.
14. “Your mom had terrific things to say about you.”
Survivors may feel guilt after they lose someone close. Perhaps they may feel like they weren't kind to a family member who unexpectedly died. Maybe they feel guilty for not spending enough time with the person they lost.
Relieve some of that guilt by telling the family members positive stories the deceased shared about them.
15. “Things won't be the same without your mother-in-law.”
List reasons why life won't be the same without the person who died.
'I'm Sorry for Your Loss' Alternatives to Say to a Coworker
We may spend more time with coworkers than we do members of our family. Because of this, it’s nice to attend the funeral of a coworker's family member. If you can't attend the funeral, it's encouraged to send them a small, inexpensive sympathy gift basket (like this one with free shipping from Amazon) or a hearty charcuterie and cheese gift basket with a personal note.
Here are some things to say to your coworker other than "I'm sorry for your loss":
- "Take care of yourself and your family during this difficult time."
- "I'm covering for you while you're gone. Take all the time you need."
- "I'm sorry I never met your dad, but I can tell that a lot of people admired him."
- "Your brother was lucky to have such a wonderful sister like you."
- "How nice that you have such a strong support system."
16. “Take care of yourself and your family during this difficult time.”
Some people feel in a rush to get back to work after losing a family member. Instead, encourage your coworker to focus on what’s important.
17. “I'm covering for you while you’re gone. Take all the time you need.”
If this statement can be said in a non-threatening way, say it. If your coworker will interpret the statement as meaning, "I'm after your job," don't say it.
18. “I'm sorry I never met your dad, but I can tell that a lot of people admired him.”
You can tell a lot about someone when you attend a funeral.
19. “Your brother was lucky to have such a wonderful sister like you.”
If you didn't know the deceased, you might not feel comfortable making statements about his or her character. Instead, say something nice about the person you do know — your coworker.
20. “How nice that you have such a strong support system.”
Sometimes when a person is grieving, he or she may have tunnel vision. It's common and natural for people to focus on the person they lost. Drawing attention to others who are attending the funeral and offering support may bring a bit of solace to your coworker who is hurting.
'I'm Sorry for Your Loss' Alternatives to Say to a Partner or Spouse
Sometimes we focus all of our energies on saying the right thing to strangers, that we forget to say kind words to the people who are most important to us.
Here are some ideas for what to say to a partner instead of "sorry for your loss":
- "I am here for you, no matter what."
- "I know you are hurting."
- "I'm sorry that I can't take this pain away."
- "Let me take care of this errand for you."
- "I love you."
21. “I am here for you, no matter what.”
Your spouse may feel overwhelmed. Be there for him or her.
22. “I know you are hurting.”
Does your spouse hide emotions? Tell your spouse that you know this is a difficult time.
23. “I'm sorry that I can't take this pain away.”
Again, give a name to what your spouse is feeling.
24. “Let me take care of this errand for you.”
Sometimes love is shown by actions as well as words — complete small tasks for your loved one during this difficult time.
25. “I love you.”
This one doesn't need an explanation.
Finding the Right Words to Say
Don't be so hard on yourself. If the only thing that you can think to say is, "I'm sorry for your loss," then so be it. The person you need to offer condolences to will remember that you attended the funeral, went to the visitation, or sent a card. He or she won't remember the exact words you said.
As you think of kind words to say to others in mourning, think about how your own family will react when you are gone. Take time to start end-of-life planning now, so when your time comes, your family can reflect on your life.
Have other suggestions to share? Let us know your ideas on to express your condolences.