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Grief Etiquette: What To Say & What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away

Have you been in a situation where you felt unsure of what to say to a griefing friend? Situations like this can be challenging especially if they were close to the person who passed away. In such circumstances, it’s important to approach the situation with sensitivity and compassion. 

Everyone experiences grief differently and we may unintentionally say things that can be perceived as hurtful or insensitive. Grief etiquette is an important aspect to consider when supporting your friend as it can help us be mindful of our words and actions. 

 

What to Say When Someone Passes Away

What to Say When Someone Passes Away

(Photo by Rhodi Lopez on Unsplash)

What do you say to a grieving friend? Death is a sensitive topic and finding the right words can be hard. Words like “it’s okay” or “I know how you feel” may seem harmless, but they can  actually come off as dismissive and disrespectful. 

Words of comfort can help a great deal during turbulent times so it’s important to have the right words. Here’s what to say when someone passes away:

 

Acknowledge the Loss

What to say when someone passes away - Acknowledge the loss

(Photo by Pexel – Liza Summer )

It’s normal to try and avoid talking about death. You may think that’s the right thing to do, fearing it might remind your friend of their pain. However, one of the most important things you can do is to simply acknowledge the loss.

This shows that you recognise their pain and are there to support them. You can use simple phrases like:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I am here for you.”

 

Offer Support

What to say when someone passes away - Offer Support

(Photo by Pexel – SHVETS production)

Offering your support can make a big difference. It lets the grieving person know they are not alone. It also goes beyond the act acknowledging the loss. It’s about extending a hand of friendship and assistance when they need it the most. Consider comforting words like:

  • “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know.”
  • “I’m here for you, whenever you need to talk.”
  • “Can I check in on you in a few days?”

 

Listen and Be Present

What to say when someone passes away - Listen and Be Present

(Photo from Freepik)

The act of listening is an underrated skill. This also goes hand in hand with being present and knowing how to read the room. Sometimes, offering your presence and lending an ear can provide immense comfort.

Allow them to express their feelings and share their grief by saying:

  • “If you want to talk, I’m here to listen.”
  • “It’s okay to experience what you’re going through right now.”
  • “Take all the time you need to grieve.”

 

Respect Their Process

What to say when someone passes away - Respect Their Process

(Photo from Freepik)

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to feel after death. Everyone grieves in their own way and it’s important to respect their process. Avoid imposing your expectations or timelines on their mourning process.

Encourage them by saying:

  • “Take all the time you need to heal.”
  • “Everyone grieves differently so it’s okay to mourn the way you want to.”
  • “It’s okay to feel sad, angry, or however you need to feel right now.”

 

Follow Up

What to say when someone passes away - Follow Up

(Image by StockSnap from Pixabay)

Grief doesn’t end after the funeral. The loss of a loved one can have long-term effects on people. That’s why it’s important to check-up on your friend long after the memorial services are over. You could check in with words like:

  • “You’ve been on my mind and I wanted to check in to see how you’re holding up.”
  • “Let’s catch up soon if you’re up for it.”
  • “I’m here for you, even months down the road.”

 

Avoid Cliches

What to say when someone passes away - Avoid Cliches

(Photo by Pexels – Karolina Kaboompics)

Sometimes, cliches can do more harm than good. While it’s tempting to try and make things better with comforting phrases, it’s best to avoid empty platitudes all together. This includes phrases like:

  • “They’re in a better place now.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “At least they lived a long life.”

 

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away

(Credit: Unsplash)

Although there are no universally accepted rules, grief etiquette provides a guideline of how we can navigate these situations better. With that, let’s take a look at some of the ill advised things you shouldn’t say to a friend who is mourning. 

 

They’re in a better place

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away - They are in a better place

(Credit: Unsplash)

This is probably the first thing that comes to mind when trying to comfort someone who’s experiencing loss. While it may seem like a well intentioned phrase, it can also imply that their loved one’s passing is a positive one. 

This may not align with the emotions and perspective of your friend who may be feeling immense pain and sadness. 

Instead, you should shift focus to the person who is experiencing pain at the moment and use comforting statements such as “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I’m here to support you”. 

Rather than trying to rationalise their grief, the best approach is to always lend an ear and offer support.

 

I know how you feel

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away - I know how you feel

(Credit: Unsplash)

Everyone experiences grief differently and even if you have been through the same situation, it’s important to recognise that your friend’s experience is completely different. 

Keep in mind that your friend’s experience is shaped by the relationship with the person who passed away. Saying you know exactly how someone feels can be invalidating to the person mourning even if your intentions are good. 

Rather than claiming you know how they feel, you should instead offer empathy and support by giving them a chance to identify how they feel. Using words like “I’m here for you whenever you want to talk” is a good way to start. 

 

Everyone dies eventually

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away - Everyone Dies Eventually

(Credit: Unsplash)

Another common statement is to imply that death is a natural occurrence and ultimately unavoidable. Although this is true, your remark may come off as insensitive and dismissive as it minimises the actual loss at that moment. 

Instead of brushing it aside, it’s important to acknowledge the pain and grief that your friend is going through. Use comforting words that show much you care about your friend or simply be present whenever they need someone to talk to. 

 

Everything happens for a reason

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away - Everything happens for a reason

(Credit: Unsplash)

This is another statement to avoid when comforting your friend as it can invalidate their pain and minimise emotions. Most people use this phrase to help a friend find meaning in a difficult situation or provide reassurance. 

However, finding a reason behind their loss may overlook their need for empathy and understanding. When in a doubt, avoid offering explanations and focus on creating a safe space for your friend to express their emotions. 

You can do this by emphasising empathy and compassion.

 

At least they lived a long life

What Not to Say When Someone Passes Away - At least they lived a long life

(Credit: Unsplash)

This statement probably gets thrown around alot too and it implies that the length of someone’s life should diminish the pain of their loss. 

Although it may be said with good intention, it can be rather insensitive to associate someone’s length of life with their passing. No matter what age the deceased goes, the time spent will never be enough especially to those closest to them. 

The lost will still feel colossal regardless of age and how long they were alive. As a friend, the best you can do is express your willingness to listen and understand the situation they are in. 

They may even want to share stories and memories about their loved one so always be ready to lend an ear.

 

Cultural Sensitivity in Singapore

What to say when someone passes away - Cultural Sensitivity in Singapore

(Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash)

In multicultural Singapore, respecting religious beliefs and practices is essential. Avoid imposing your own beliefs and remember to offer support that aligns with the grieving person’s faith. Be mindful of dietary restrictions and consider what may be observed during the mourning period.

Offer prayers or thoughts that resonate with their faith while participating in community support efforts. This can be very meaningful as it shows how much you care about their cultural and religious background.

For instance, if your friend is Buddhist, you might offer to chant or recite sutras for the deceased. Similarly, for Christians, offering to attend church services or including them in your prayers can be comforting. Certain cultural practices may even dictate specific behaviours.

For example, it’s common for Chinese families to wear white clothes during funerals. They will also refrain from festive activities while participating in rituals like offering prayers and burning incense. All in all, it’s important to respect the cultural context of different cultures in Singapore.

 

Conclusion 

Death is an abstract concept and everyone experiences grief differently. The process is unique to each person and it’s natural to be unsure of what to say to a friend that’s mourning.

What may be comforting for one can be hurtful to another so it’s important to choose our words carefully and be mindful of the impact they might have on our friend. 

All in all, avoid minimising emotions and dismissing pain and remember to empathise and actively listen to what your friend has to say.

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    Funeral Service Singapore

    24 hours hotline:

    +65 8866 3326

    22 Sin Ming Lane
    #06-76 , Midview City
    Singapore 573969

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