For those whose loved ones are grieving, it can be a difficult task to comfort them. It’s often hard for them to know the right words. 

An expert in grief has revealed some of the unhelpful phrases and suggested that they may make the situation worse by leading to withdrawal. 

Bianca Neumann is the Head of Grief at Sue Ryder. This is to mark Grief Awareness Week. It’s a reflection on your view that the loved one might not agree with. 

It is important to not say nothing if you are feeling awkward.  

She said that it is difficult to decide what to tell people who are close to someone’s death. ‘While each bereaved person’s experience will be different, these tips will give you guidance on what not to say when someone is grieving, as well as ideas for how to help them feel heard and supported.

Continue reading to learn the 5 things to avoid when talking to grieving people, and the helpful phrases.  

A grief expert has revealed the phrases that can be unhelpful and may even make things worse for the bereaved person by making them withdraw (stock image)

An expert in grief has shown how these phrases can prove to be harmful and even worsen the situation for bereaved people (stock photo).

Don’t say: ‘You must be feeling…’ 

Don’t make assumptions about how they feel – You may have experienced a loss in the past and believe you understand what someone is going through, but everyone experiences grief differently – including feelings of shock, sadness, pain, anger, guilt, anxiety, and numbness. 

Therefore, give the bereaved person space to tell you how they are feeling, and avoid saying things like, ‘You must be feeling…’ or ‘I know exactly how you feel’. 

Similarly, sometimes people appear to be coping after a loved one’s death when they’re in fact struggling, therefore keep checking in regularly.

Do not say that they lived a long and happy life. 

Do not try to make things right. It is tempting to think that you can help someone in grief feel better. 

That’s why, if someone has died after a long illness, people might say things like, ‘It was for the best’, or ‘She’s at peace now’. When someone dies in old age, they may say, ‘At least he had a long life’, but statements like these aren’t always helpful. 

Bereaved people might feel different or find it more comforting, leading to even greater isolation.

Do not say, “You will heal.”

Don’t tell them they will ‘heal’, ‘move on’ or ‘get over it’ – When someone is first bereaved, they may not be able to imagine a future without the person who has died. They might worry about their memories fading and find the idea of ‘moving on’ or ‘getting over it’ very upsetting. People often say, ‘time is a healer’, but bereavement is more than just healing, it includes finding personal ways to live with grief.

Do not say, “How long will it take for you to grieve?” 

Do not set unrealistic expectations about how long your grief will last. Most people can find ways to deal with it and eventually feel better. 

But setting a specific timeframe – for example, by saying something like, ‘It took my uncle two years to recover after my aunt died’ – can make them feel as if they are failing if things don’t improve. 

However, everyone grieves differently and it can take several years. So, instead of worrying about how much time they will need, be sure to let them know that you’re there for them no matter what.

Do not say, “They’re better now.” 

Talking about religion is a dangerous thing. After someone dies, people sometimes say things like, ‘He’s in a better place now’, or ‘It was God’s will’. 

A bereaved individual may not believe or agree with God. They may believe that God took their beloved one, and they might feel angry. 

Religion is a matter of faith. Listen to what the grieving person has to say and don’t mention it unless it seems appropriate.

Five things to say to someone grieving 

1. Sorry for your loss. 

When someone is grieving, it’s important to acknowledge what has happened and express your sympathy – this will reassure them that they don’t have to cope alone.

A thoughtful message via text is appreciated by most people. You could also send a card and text the first time to let them know. This message can be simply conveyed by saying ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, or ‘I heard about your dad, I’m so sorry’.

Telling them you’re thinking of them can also be done months after the death when a bereaved person will have to deal with things like birthdays, Christmas, and holidays without their friend or relative for the first time. 

2. How did I do it? 

You can share a fond memory with someone you know. You might say something like, ‘I remember your mum’s brilliant speech at your wedding’, or ‘I’ll miss your grandad’s wonderful sense of humour’. You might find things like these a comforting way to communicate your grief with loved ones. However, you will need to be mindful of when and how to do it. 

Take care when sharing photos via social media. Family members might be reluctant to openly discuss their losses or want specific information not shared with all.

3. Do you want to discuss it? 

Many bereaved people say it helps to speak freely about how they’re feeling. Saying ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘Would you like to talk about it?’ gives them a chance to talk about their feelings and emotions if they feel comfortable to do so. Let them know you’re happy to listen to any feelings they want to share. Allow the individual to express their emotions without trying to change things.

4. What do you require? 

You may want to help but don’t know how. Ask the bereaved person if there is anything they need and let them know you’re ready to support them in any way possible. You can suggest things to do, such as cooking a meal, shopping for groceries, or helping with the funeral arrangements if they are unsure. This can help reduce the amount of pressure that the bereaved individual feels when they have to deal with many practical issues.

Sometimes you don’t need to say anything – When you are with a bereaved person, take your cue from them in terms of how much they want to talk – some people find it too painful to talk about their passed friend or relative. Sometimes, it can be helpful to spend time with someone who is grieving.


Sue Ryder has created a nationwide movement for kindness and compassion around bereavement. To find out more visit or to listen to their Grief Kind podcast visit