How to choose the right words to say to a friend or family member who is grieving is an important, but very difficult skill. By carefully selecting and sharing words of comfort, the offering becomes a tool of healing and encouragement for the bereaved. With proper thought and guidance, the words chosen will make a positive difference in the life of the one grieving and will offer assurance that you care for the relationship.

The words we choose to use to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one is as equally delicate as those in an international summit meeting or those used to defuse an argument in a marriage. The lack of words or the use of insensitive ones may be remembered for years. It is important to be cautious when selecting your words as a poor choice of words may cause irreparable damage to the relationship. Below are guidelines that can help with understanding what to say.

Five Tips that Will Assist in Choosing the Words Carefully

  1. Give Yourself Time to Consider What to Say. One of the main reasons that wrong words are chosen is that we don’t take time to pause and think before speaking. Thinking first not only makes the words chosen more powerful, it often helps eliminate words that simply would not be appropriate.
  2. Be Aware of the Connotations of Words. The task in carefully choosing the right words is to take into account how the person will understand and accept the words that you will say. What meaning will the bereaved read into the words? Words that might be appropriate under normal conditions may become completely out of place in the setting of grief.
  3. Choose Words that Fit the Personality of the Bereaved. If the friend who is grieving is a scholar, the words that are chosen can be vivid and descriptive. If the friend does not use the words chosen, they are likely to come across as arrogant, meaningless and impersonal. Funeral homes are not the appropriate setting for flowery monologues.
  4. Be True to Yourself. The words chosen should reflect the personality and purpose of the speaker. Choose words and phrases that are a part of your vocabulary. What will be the purpose in sharing the words? Words of encouragement may take a lighter, positive tone while offering words of heartfelt, deep sympathy may be somber and tear-evoking.
  5. Eliminate the Wrong Words. Sometimes the choosing of the right words is greatly assisted by overlooking the wrong words. By pausing long enough to reflect on what words would be inappropriate in the setting, you will narrow the choices to a manageable number of possible words. Poet A. E. Housman once said, “I did not choose the right word. I got rid of the wrong one.”

Give careful consideration to choose words carefully in order to offer comfort and wisdom. Your thoughts will make a difference and your counsel will be remembered for years to come.