I’ve been to a lot of funerals and visitations in the past few years, not as one who has come to pay respects, but as part of the bereaved family. As such, I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of statements of support. I’ve also watched some people struggle to know what to say.
When it’s our turn to pay our respects at a visitation or funeral, we want our words to bring comfort. We want to be known as someone who understands.
Choosing the right words to say is a good first step. Knowing we have the right words gives us the courage to speak with compassion. When we pair those two things, our genuine concern for the person we’re speaking to shines through, and our words give comfort and we are remembered for it.
This moment is about us only as far as it is about our ability to say and do the right things. Here are three phrases that bring comfort to bereaved family or friends when someone has died.
“Your father was special to you; you’re in my prayers.”
Identifying the deceased by name or relationship makes your statement personal, and acknowledging the quality of the relationship shows your empathy. The words special or precious are safe to use no matter what the state of the relationship between the bereaved and the deceased. Stating that you are praying for the bereaved acknowledges your own religious beliefs and customs in death.
“Your baby was precious; I know how you looked forward to expanding your family.”
It does not matter whether this was to be their first child or their fifth. For months, possibly longer, they have waited and planned for this baby. This particular child. If the child was born with serious defects, or stillborn because of them, those facts do not need to be mentioned by you, ever.
“I am sorry she has died; I know how much you loved her.”
Some people are afraid to use the words died, dead or death for fear of upsetting the bereaved. The bereaved is well aware the person is dead and will appreciate your honest recognition of that fact. It is our own discomfort with death and the feelings that accompany the death of a loved one that cause us to shy away from stating the truth.
By the way, I am not in favor of the phrase, ‘I am sorry for your loss.’ Perhaps it is the years of TV police procedurals, which all seem to deliver the phrase with the same compassion you’d use for commenting on the weather. It’s a statement that sounds sterile and hollow to me, even when I know the speaker is genuinely compassionate.
Life Is Honest, Open and True: We struggle to know what to say when we cannot tap in to our own compassion. When we speak from our heart, with sincerity, we are brave and strong, and we bring comfort to one who is suffering the death of a loved one.