Words of Condolence: What to Say to Someone in Mourning (and What Not to Say)

Words of condolence – the right words of condolence, that is – can seem elusive. You want to be truly sympathetic and empathetic, but you worry about saying the wrong thing or saying something well-intended in the wrong way. Oftentimes this makes us overthink and stammer our condolences. When that happens, we worry that we’ve only made the grieving worse. So are there correct words of condolence you can use? Is there a right approach for expressing your heartfelt sympathies?


First, understand that everyone experiences loss and everyone has been called upon to provide comfort and sympathy. It is not easy to be in either situation, but we do share this part of life. So relax. As long as you express yourself from the heart, even if that expression of sympathy is a caring, silent hug, you will probably do just fine.

Shift Your Focus

Next, avoid the temptation to say something like, “I know how you feel,” or “I went through this with Mom,” or “My best friend lost her Dad last week, too”. Even though you have probably experienced loss, too, every relationship is different and everyone processes and internalizes grief differently. Trying to let the mourner know they are not the first to experience loss isn’t really constructive. In fact, this well-meaning but misguided approach may only serve to trivialize a deeply personal experience that is anything but trivial!

Also, while it is common to orient your conversation toward the details of the loss, it is not completely comforting to say that the deceased is “in a better place” or is no longer suffering. Even if you believe that to be true, those grieving the loss are still hurting themselves.

Rather, keep your focus on the grieving family. Why? Because true healing for mourners begins with knowing they are in your continuing thoughts and prayers. Focus your attention on how they are doing and if there is anything you can do to help them cope. Try saying something like, “I know this must be so hard. Is there anything I can do for you to help make this time a little easier?” Even if the mourner doesn’t request help right away, it will almost certainly provide some measure of peace and comfort knowing you offered.

You should certainly speak kindly and personally about the deceased and express that the passing is a loss for you as well, but again, direct most of your attention outward – with heartfelt sympathy and empathy for those closest to the deceased.

When a loved one dies, words will almost always fall short of providing true peace, comfort and healing. However, coping with the loss may begin with simple and properly focused words of condolence. If you are not sure what to say when the moment comes at a funeral home calling or memorial service, ask your funeral director for some guidance. At Stillinger Family Funeral Home, here in Greenfield, Indiana, for example, our funeral professionals have many years of experience helping families, friends and mourners find meaningful ways to pay tribute to departed loved ones. To learn more, contact us at (317) 462-5536.

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