There may be nothing more difficult than finding the right words to say to someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Death is often an extremely uncomfortable subject to discuss. When you are able to share personal words that convey your emotions for the loss and the value you place on the relationship with the one grieving, you can provide support that will be meaningful for a lifetime. A personal touch can let the person know that you are thinking of them and can empathize with their sorrow.

Finding the right word was a lifelong quest for French novelist Gustave Flaubert. “Whatever you want to say, there is only one word that will express it. You must seek that word … and never be satisfied with approximations.” Be sensitive to the needs and circumstances of the grieving. Your presence – and the right words – will comfort them during this difficult time.

Four Tips That Will Help When Choosing Words to Express Condolences

Choosing Words that Convey Passion. Start with your own heart – examine it for motives, capture it for compassion. Genuinely offer words that express the sorrow that you feel for the loss. Encourage the person with your presence. Offer words that assure that you will be there beyond the moments at the funeral home.

Choosing Words that Show Purpose. Say a word that remembers the relationship and that conveys the importance of both the deceased and the survivor in your life. The right words may not come to you naturally – pause before you meet to gather the right things to express.

Choosing Words that Show Your Perception. Not every moment is an opportune one for words. Times in the funeral home can make for awkward reunions and strained relationships. Sometimes your perception leads you to realize that no word is needed – allow the touch on the hand or a glance between tear-filled eyes to suffice.

Choosing Words that Help Bring Peace. The calm and gentle words you choose will bring encouragement and peace long after the visitation is over. Comforting words are not trite or trivial when offered with sincere affection.

Some Words and Phrases That Often Provide Comfort

With preparation, the right words can be found to offer comfort and support to a grieving friend. You can incorporate some of the following phrases into your conversation with the bereaved when expressing condolences.

1. I am so sorry for your loss.
2. I will surely miss him/her.
3. You and your family are in my thoughts (and prayers).
4. I am sure these times must be very difficult for you.
5. Would you like to tell me a little about (deceased’s name)?

Be Cautious of Words That Can Be Misinterpreted

Although silence may feel uncomfortable, there are certain words that may not be appropriate. When we are speaking in normal circumstances, we tend to say “um” or “uh” to fill the gap. Often when we are in funeral homes or visiting with someone after the passing of a loved one, we will say phrases to fill the silence. Sometimes these well-intentioned fillers can be hurtful. It may be advisable to steer away from the following words and phrases.

1. He/she is in a better place.
2. This is probably for the best. He/she is no longer suffering.
3. I know exactly how you feel.
4. Time heals all wounds.
5. You may not feel it now, but you will be able to move on.
6. Avoid euphemisms like “passed on” or “gone home.”
7. Avoid harsh words like “killed” or “murdered.” In some settings, even “died” can come across as hurtful and inappropriate.

Is the effort to find the right word in the right setting worth it? Mark Twain would say it is. “The difference between the almost-right word and the right-word is really a large matter,” he once wrote. “It is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”