Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences in life. Knowing the right thing to say to someone who is grieving can feel uncomfortable and challenging.
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Jump ahead to these sections:
- What You Can Say Instead of Sending ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
- What You Can Do Instead of Sending ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
Whether you’re commenting on a social media post, comforting someone in person, or want to say or do something meaningful, there are many different ways to let someone know you are sorry for their loss.
Sending “thoughts and prayers” can be a really nice choice for some, but sometimes the sentiment lands flat. Here is a list of 25 other options that will let a grieving family know that you care and are thinking of them.
Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, it's tough to handle both the emotional and technical aspects of their unfinished business. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.
What You Can Say Instead of Sending ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
When sending condolences to someone who is grieving, you’ll want to make sure your message is appropriate, sensitive, kind, and caring. Saying something like, “they’re in a better place now” or “everything happens for a reason” can feel very hurtful to someone who is grieving. Here’s a list of several things you can say instead.
1. I’m here for you.
Letting someone know that you are there for them in this dark time is much more powerful than sending thoughts and prayers. It can help them feel less alone, and they will know you care for them and that they can ask you for help if they need it.
2. My favorite memory of your loved one is...
One of the few joys in grief is being able to reminisce about someone who has passed. Share a story with the grieving person that they may not have known. Hearing the impact their loved one had on others can be a real gift.
3. I am so sad to hear about your loss.
Express your sadness. Naming emotions out loud makes them real. It is important to validate the grief and sadness that your friend or loved one is experiencing right now. This will help them feel like they're not alone in their grief.
4. They always told me so much about you.
If you knew the deceased, but not their family, it’s nice to let the family know what their loved one shared with you about them. Hearing the beautiful things their loved one said about them can be very healing.
5. I’m only a phone call away.
Let them know that they can call you day or night to chat. This type of support is much more meaningful than simple condolences. It is real, tangible, and they know they’ll have someone there for them if they need anything.
6. I’m thinking of you today.
Every year when the anniversary of the death of a loved one rolls around, the bereft may feel like they’re the only one who remembers. It can be a sad and lonely day. Letting them know you are here for them and thinking of them is simple and can go a long way.
7. I am so sorry.
While this is a similar sentiment to”‘thoughts and prayers,” it sounds more sincere and heartfelt. You can also add on anything else you would like to convey.
For instance, you can say something along the lines of, “I am so sorry to hear about your dad. He was such a thoughtful man, and I loved every minute I got to spend with him.”
8. We will miss them so much.
If you worked with or were close to the person who passed away, it is nice to let their family know how much everyone will miss them.
The family will get to see the impact that the deceased had on your life, and know they are not alone in their sadness and grief.
9. Our lives will not be the same without them.
Similar to expressing how much you will miss the deceased, you are letting their family know how much they really meant to you. Their entire world changed when they lost someone they loved, and it can bring peace and comfort to know that others share in their sadness and grief.
10. I love you.
If someone you are intimate with or very close to loses someone they love, a simple “I love you” can make a world of difference. It will let them know that you are there for them and in it with them.
11. Words fall short of expressing my sorrow.
It is okay to let someone know that you empathize with their pain, and yet don’t have the words to express this sadness. There really aren’t words to convey true grief. Saying that you have no words validates what a difficult and painful process losing someone you love truly is.
When there are no words that will do, offering an ear to listen can show the person you are there for them and be more than enough. In fact, it might be exactly what they need.
What You Can Do Instead of Sending ‘Thoughts and Prayers’
After someone dies, actions can speak much louder than words. When someone is grieving, the world continues to spin, and they are often responsible for an overwhelming amount of things. They are likely dealing with funeral arrangements, caring for family members, and other life obligations.
This is the perfect time to offer to support them and do things for them that can bring even a small amount of joy or reprieve during a difficult time.
13. Send flowers or a plant
Flowers and plants brighten up spaces and smell great. A beautiful arrangement with a sympathy card is sure to bring a smile to someone’s face and liven up their home. Flowers are a very traditional way to express condolences.
14. Organize a meal train
When in the process of grieving, it can be very hard for people to remember to do things to take care of themselves.
Help them stay nourished by organizing a meal train. You can create a calendar, or use an online meal train tool. Then their community can sign up to provide meals for the grieving family.
15. Offer to clean
If the grieving family is sitting shiva, or their community is surrounding them in their home after a loss, it can be hard to find time to clean up. Offer to do the dishes, clean the bathrooms, make the beds, water the plants, or anything else that needs to be done around the house. If you are very close to the family and know it’s okay — don’t ask, just clean!
16. Provide childcare
Taking care of kids while grieving can be extremely taxing. Offer to take the kids for a day, or watch them at home while mom and dad take a nap or go out for dinner.
17. Donate to their favorite charity
Donations to a favorite charity can be a very meaningful gift for a grieving family. It can help them feel like there's some positivity stemming from their dark time.
Many families specify a charity. If their loved one died of a specific disease, you could choose to donate in their honor to a charity that supports research or a cure.
When in doubt, avoid any charities that could offend, such as religious or political organizations. Charities that support children and animals are usually a safe bet.
You can even set up a memorial donation page and invite others to contribute too with a platform like Everloved.
18. Be there
One of the most important things you can do when someone you love is grieving is to just be there for them. Visit often. Show them you care by being a shoulder to cry on and any other support they need.
19. Offer a hug
This is a very personal one. Some people would grimace at the thought of a hug, so if your friend is one of those people — skip ahead! If you are close to the person who is grieving, offer a hug or hold their hand while they cry. Physical touch can be very healing and lets them know you’re right there with them.
20. Bring their favorite drink
A nice bottle of wine — or whiskey if that’s more their thing — is a really nice gift for someone who is grieving. Better yet, stay and have a glass with them and listen, cry, laugh, and be there for support. (This also makes sure they don’t drown their sorrows and drink the whole bottle.)
21. Make a self-care basket
Fill a basket with candles, healthy snacks, bubble bath, lotions, and other goodies that they can use to practice some self-care and relaxation. A good cry in a yummy-smelling bath is wonderful for the soul.
22. Give a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant
The days and weeks following the passing of a loved one are often chaotic. Support the grieving family by paying for a night out at a restaurant. This will give them some alone time while enjoying a nourishing meal.
23. Treat them to a spa day
Give your friend who is grieving a gift certificate to a nearby spa. Getting pampered by professionals can be helpful in the healing process, and can be great for someone who needs a refresh during a rough patch.
Let them choose when they want to take advantage of the gift card. They may want to go soon after their loss as a distraction, or they may want to wait until their back to everyday life and use it as a reset.
24. Make a homemade meal
A homemade meal is the perfect way to let someone know that you’re there for them while providing some comfort. Make extra so that they have a batch to freeze for nights when cooking feels too tough.
25. Pay attention to their needs
What someone who is grieving might need most in the world is space. They might need the time and privacy to just be alone and cry. Let them know that you are here whenever and for whatever they need. Then give them the space to grieve in their own way.
There’s No Right Thing to Say or Do
Grief is complicated, and no two people grieve in the same way. Therefore, there’s no perfect or exact right thing to say. Any genuine expression of sympathy, love, and care will go a long way.
If you don’t know the grieving person very well, stick to something a bit more generic such as, “I am so sad to hear about your loss.” If you are very close with the person, then you likely know exactly what to say and do so that they feel loved and cared for.