When a loved one, friend, neighbor, or co-worker has a loss, most people feel compelled to say something. The question is “what?”

Having lost some very important people in my life as well as attempted to console friends and colleagues who have had to deal with death, here are my suggestions as to what you might say.

Keep it Simple: “I am sorry for your loss” is a very good start and many times the only thing you have to/should say.

Refer to the Relationship: If you knew the nature of the grieving person’s relationship with the deceased, you can truthfully say, “I know you and your sister were very close.” If you don’t know, never pretend, assume, or speculate.

Acknowledge Pain but Don’t Assume: “I can only imagine how hard this is for you” shows effort to empathize but doesn’t assume you “get it.”

Offer to Help: When people are overwhelmed with grief, it is often hard for them to identify what they need, so you asking, “What can I do for you?” feels like an unanswerable question. Instead, offer some options. “Would it be okay if I called you tomorrow morning just to check in?” Or, “How about I take the kids for a few hours at the end of the week, so you can rest?”

Encourage Grieving: So many people tell their grief-stricken friends, “You have to be strong.” I say, “Why?” Rather, tell a crying friend, “It’s good to cry” or reinforce “of course you are tired” (lonely, confused, dazed) or whatever they are saying they feel. Normalize their feelings with agreement.

Remember the Good Times: Most adults and children like hearing anecdotes about their recently deceased loved one. Tell a short, lighthearted, story putting their relationship in the best light. “I remember the first time you two tried to paddle a canoe — you were laughing so hard, I thought you would tip the thing.” It brings good memories into a sad situation.

Speak of Contributions: Eulogies aren’t the only time to acknowledge a departed person’s legacy. Mention to the griever, “I decided to attend law school because your father encouraged me when I was his student.” Or, “Your wife was really admired by those of us who worked with her. She was smart, dedicated, and easy to be around — we’re going to miss her.”

Recognize Effort: “You were remarkable — keeping the household running smoothly, going to the hospital, and holding your job. I don’t know how you did it but I am sure ____ appreciated it.”

Say nothing: Sometimes presence is the only action required. This can be appearing at a wake or sitting Shiva; attending a funeral, memorial service, or some other gathering. Showing up is not only a statement you cared about the person who died but also you are there for those who live on.

Comforting a grieving person is easier when you come from love and warmth; if you make it about those who are grieving and passed, while steering the focus away from yourself. Your words need not be profound or memorable only heartfelt. The purpose is to acknowledge and remember, to console and support. With this in mind you will always say and do the right thing.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.