It is always difficult to know what to say to someone who is grieving.
There are no rules as to when you should speak to the family. You should be guided by the family’s actions at the service.
Sometimes the circumstances of the death may have been particularly distressing, such as with homicides, traumatic unexpected deaths and suicides, and the family are too overwrought to speak with guests.
What To Say To The Family?
It’s important to show your care and concern, but be aware that what you say may lessen some of their sorrow, but cannot make their pain go away.
We can mistakenly feel the need to offer assistance by saying something to ‘cheer them up’, and avoid talking about the person who has died. This is not allowing the family to grieve in a natural healing process, so try not to feel uncomfortable if you or the family member becomes emotional or begins to cry.
Expressing your sympathy to the family, should be kept to a simple statement, and then be prepared to listen.
“I’m sorry for your loss”.
“You and your family are in my thoughts”.
“Please accept my sympathy”.
“My heart goes out to you during this sad time”.
“I’m here for you if you need anything.”
As everyone’s loss is an individual experience, you should avoid phrases such as, “I know exactly how you are feeling”, “You must try to be strong” or “They had a long life”.
Sometimes, such as following a lengthy illness, the death can be a relief for family members, who find some comfort in knowing their loved one is no longer suffering. It is best if you refrain from speaking of this, and let the family reach this conclusion, if appropriate, in their own time.
It is also best to refrain from asking questions about the illness or death. A grieving family member may not want to keep repeating upsetting details about their loved one’s death.
Try to be guided by how the family is dealing with their loss when choosing your words and actions. If they are sharing fond memories or stories about their loved one, then offer a special memory of your own; eg “I really loved your mum’s garden and her beautiful roses”, or “I loved how your dad was always telling corny jokes”.
Regardless of your words, most families will appreciate your recognition of their loved one and their loss, and may find that speaking about their loved one gives them some comfort.