When someone you know loses a loved one, it’s hard to know what to say. Dr. Sarah Brabant, a grief educator in Louisiana, and a certified thanatologist – someone who studies death, offers these do’s and don’ts when it comes to comforting a friend who’s grieving. We got them from Real Simple magazine.

  • Don’t say, “They’re in a better place.” This might be true in your belief system, but you shouldn’t assume your friend feels the same way. They might think there’s no better place for their loved one than by their side.
  • Don’t say: “You just need to keep busy.” This presumes that you know how to handle the loss of the loved one better than the person who’s mourning. They might be better off focusing their full attention on their feelings.
  • Another thing you shouldn’t say to someone who’s lost a loved one: “I know what you’re going through.” Even if your mother and your friend’s mother died from the same disease, your relationships with them are individually sacred and distinct. Brabant says don’t say this or even suggest how your friend should cope.
  • Don’t say, “It’s a blessing in disguise.” Even if the person’s loved one was suffering, you should never assume the death was welcome.

So now that you know what NOT to say to someone who’s grieving, what CAN you say that’ll comfort them?

  • Try: “I’ll bring dinner for the next three Thursdays” - or something along those lines. If you want to offer help, make it concrete. Asking, “What can I do for you?” will probably overwhelm the person. Come up with something specific yourself. Not only is it one less thing they have to do, but it’s one less thing they have to think about.
  • DO say: “I’m thinking of you.” Show your support by approaching them with your HANDS extended. Brabant says a lot of grieving people feel smothered by well-meaning huggers, so give them the option to shake hands. If they need more, they’ll let you know.