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Two Words That Help When Someone Experiences a Death or Loss

By Linda Ward September 03, 2022 Mindset

When someone in your life circle passes away, everyone in that circle feels the heaviness of grief in one way or another. It’s hard to know what to say to relatives, friends, or even acquaintances as they experience deep grief and loss.

We feel the loss too, and want to say something profound, something helpful and comforting. Sometimes our words just come out wrong. We put our foot in our mouth and there’s no retracting it.

Words That Hurt

My sister and my mother passed away within months of each other. I experienced intense grief for a time. I heard things like, “She’s in a better place”; “God wanted another angel”; or “God took her home.” Some of these statements could make me resent God if He indeed “took” them.

How about these statements, “She was so nice, God wanted her with him. It was her time to go. She accomplished what she was here for.” Or “I know how you feel,” followed with a story about someone in their life that passed on. These statements are not helpful and can bring more sorrow.

What Two Words?

If these things don’t help, what can we say? It comes down to two words. I’m sorry. Then stop talking. Sharing experiences that you’ve had in your own family doesn’t help. Am I supposed to feel compassion toward you when my heart is full of pain? Talking about God taking my loved one doesn’t help.

The person who this is told to may not have the same belief toward God as you. Will this be hurtful to them? If someone says to me, “Call me if you need anything,” I won’t be calling. It’s better for you to call me. Ask if anything is needed on any given day. Putting the call on them is a cop out. You pick up the phone, and you take the lead.

Less Is More

When saying the two words, “I’m sorry,” you can elaborate slightly. Here are a few examples:

“I’m so sorry”; “I’m sorry for the pain you are going through”; or “I’m sorry this happened.” Saying less is saying more. Are you comfortable sitting with someone without talking? Silence and just being there might be what they need.

Can you be with someone as they cry without getting them to stop? Crying is healthy and needed at a time like this. They may not have let their guard down with anyone else, but they can with you.

It might just be me, but even when people say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” it doesn’t sit right. It has become a phrase so overused that the meaning is lost on me. Try stopping at the first two words. See if you can do it.

My Friend Showed Me How

My friend called to ask if she could stop over after my mom passed away. She brought me a sandwich and said, “I’m sorry,” as we hugged. Then she stopped talking and let me do the talking. She was the only person who truly helped me.

This girlfriend made a very big impression on me. She was sorry, and she listened. I’ve learned from her. This is what I will do when my mother-in-law, who is very close to dying as I write this, passes on. I’ll bring food and say the two words that hold meaning and love, “I’m sorry.”

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Can you relate to this? Have people said phrases or words that elevated grief, or have they helped you feel better? If so, please share what they said. If you’d like, share the words that made you feel worse, so we can all learn from them.

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When my mom passed I found the stories of others comforted me. Learning how they got through their loss, in a way, helped me cope with my grief. “I’m sorry” seems so impersonal but I guess for some it may help. Knowing your friend can help you decide how they may be comforted in their time of sorrow.

Laura McGreevy

Thank you for this article.
I totally agree with everything you have said, and I will remember your wise words next time I need to comfort someone whose loved one has passed on.
My sister recently ‘made her transition’. (I don’t like to use the word ‘died’, because I believe the person’s spirit moves on to another place. I also appreciate that not everyone has this belief!).
Anyway, the day had the news it happened my son-in-law was at my house.
He came up to me and took me in his arms. He did not say one word. He just let me rest my face in his chest while he held me. We stood there for a very long time while I wept softly into his jumper. When I was ready to pull away he just looked into my eyes with a gentle smile, which I returned.
Not a word was spoken between us, but it was the most meaningful ‘Im sorry for your loss’ I have ever experienced.

Linda Ward

You have a wonderful son in law!

Catherine Vance

As we are in our 60s, we are losing siblings, friends and parents.

When it’s someone I know, I always say something like, “Oh, I’m so
sorry—your Mom was (wonderful, so friendly to everyone, such a sweet lady, etc.)
And yes, I do start to go on about every little thing I can think of about their wonderfulness. I find my friends love hearing that, as did my cousin after he lost both his Mom and Dad within a couple of years. Little examples mean more than, “They were great.”
“I remember the time that—–” makes them happy.

If the situation was not that easy (a friend losing a parent who was difficult), maybe try,
“I’m so sorry. How you are feeling about this?”

And if you don’t know the person who died, you can say,
“I’m so sorry. Tell me about her.” Most people will.

You are SO right about the empty, “Call me if there’s anything I can do.”
There are a thousand things you can do if you care about that person!
You can bring over fancy coffee and muffins. You can say, “Let me sleep
on your couch tonight. I want to be close by you.” You can say, “Let’s take
a walk.” You can say, “Let’s go grocery shopping together.”

Anyway. You are right. “I’m sorry,” is good.
But sometimes a nudge with, “Tell me everything,” helps.

Lori Sandison

This is true, but, often a person who is close to one who is or has died is just plain tired of telling ‘the story’ or expressing how they feel to everyone. Sometimes, as the article states, just being there, sitting quietly is all that they need. This observation comes from more than a decade of working with palliative care patients.


Right. I also send a note adding a fun adventure we had.

Linda Ward

Terrie, I think sending a note at a later time about some wonderful experience or thought you have about the person who passed, is appropriate. As time progresses past the funeral, many are left without support from friends and relatives who have moved on. At this point, receiving a note or a verbal reminder of the good times can be encouraging. I know how it feels when the world moved on but you wonder if anyone remembers your heart aches.


I agree, although I say, “I’m sorry that you’re going through this.” This seems to be helpful.


I lost my first son at a month, 47 years ago. The “words of condolences” that just blew me away was “you can always have another baby.” Really???

Linda Ward

Oh, I feel the pain those words held for you. It’s another example of what NOT to say.

The Author

Linda Ward is a Writer and Life Coach living in Minnesota. She specializes in helping mature women find everyday happiness and a satisfying life. She zeroes in on life after divorce, retirement transitions, and finding courage no matter what the circumstances. Her inspiring new eBook is called, Crazy Simple Steps to Feeling Happier. Linda’s Professional background is Social Work and Counseling.

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