Things To Say When Someone Dies


I believe one of the worst questions a person can ask when someone dies is, “How are you doing?” How do you really think the person is doing? They have just lost someone they care a great deal about, possibly more than life itself.

Is this person expected to put on a brave face and say they’re doing fine? Maybe they’re supposed to fall into a heap on the floor and cry their eyes out until it feels as if they will fall from their sockets. Surely no one expects the person to look them straight in the eye and tell them that a person who meant so much to them is now gone forever, and their heart is shattered into millions of shards that can never be put together again.

hearseI understand how hard it can be to know what to say to someone who has had a recent loss such as this. We all have or will face this situation at some point in our lives, so I asked myself, “Self, what would be the correct thing to say to someone in this situation?” Myself and I have these kinds of chats all of the time. They’re some of the best conversations I’ve ever had, although she can be a bit of a smarty pants sometimes. The following are things we came up with to say when someone dies.
“Is there anything you need?” Wait, that one is kind of iffy. Of course, there’s one thing about all else the person needs, the loved one who is gone to walk through the door and throw their hands around them in a huge hug. Okay, on to the next one.

“Is there anything I can do to help?” Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Since it is pretty obvious to most that we can’t turn the clock back to before their loved one departed, maybe something like watching the kids or going to the store or even just emptying the trash would be of help. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.

“I’m thinking of you and your family in your time of sorrow.” This one is pretty safe. It simply states that person and their family are in your thoughts. You haven’t said for how long they will be in your thoughts, so there shouldn’t be any commitment issues. You can think about them in your car, at your desk, on the beach, in the bath, the opportunities are practically endless. Yes, this one is a keeper.

“Have you eaten today (or this afternoon or tonight as the case may be)?” This one is fairly safe, as well. If the answer is yes, you’re off the hook. If the answer is, “I can’t eat or don’t want to eat,” offer them something. If they don’t eat, at least you tried. And if they want something, heck, where I come from there’s enough food brought in when someone passes away to feed a battleship, literally. And if there isn’t anything handy to fix head for a burger and fries. During a stressful time such as this everyone needs their strength, but it is so easy to forget to eat in the hustle and bustle and with all the emotions involved. Way to go Self, another keeper.

“Can I have his/her <fill in the blank>?” Oh come on Self, where’s your head at, up your butt? Yeah, that’s what I thought. This is not the time to start asking about the beloved one that’s gone on’s stuff. I’ve been at viewings where people have actually asked the family what they’re going to do with the house and land the person is leaving behind. Seriously, I kid you not. This is even worse than the original question of how the person is doing. If you have the urge to ask a question such as this, make like Elvis and leave the building. Self, how could you? I think it’s time to break out the wet noodle.

I’ve given two examples of things that should not be asked or said when someone dies. There are also some pretty good things anybody can use during this time with just about anyone. So the next time you find yourself at a complete loss for words in this situation, please think of one of the good ones and completely forget the bad ones.

  1. Avatar of Rhonda Sellers Elkins
    Rhonda Sellers Elkins says

    What a great article. I just joined this site today and yours is the first article I’ve read. I lost my 23 year old daughter to suicide 4-11-13 and it is hell on earth what we are all living through. At first my mother or sisters would always call me on the phone and say “how are you doing?” I would sit there and wonder how they could ask me that. I know it’s just a common thing that people ask anyone but it was no longer common to me. I told them I’m not doing well, I never will be again the rest of my life. Each time they called and asked me that I would tell them the same thing. Finally they quit asking that. Now they ask what I am doing which is not far from being just as bad. The answer is mostly, “well, I’ve cried all day, I’ve gone through and touched all her things, I’ve written in my blog about how much I miss her.” and things like that. Life and the effect things people say after someone’s death changes forever. Great article.

  2. Avatar of Crystal Schall
    Crystal Schall says

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your kind words about my article.

    I think a lot of people ask these questions rhetorically, never thinking of the way they are going to be taken by the person they’re asking. I don’t think they necessarily mean to be as thoughtless as they end up sounding.

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