An image of two men looking away from the frame, sad

What to Say to a Grieving Friend

When someone around us experiences a life-altering loss, it’s common to feel anxious about what to say. Am I going to say the wrong thing? What if they’re not thinking about it? Am I going to shock them? What if they don’t want to talk about it? These questions come up for many of us when we think about connecting soon after someone experiences a loss. Knowing we can’t take away their pain or improve the situation can feel endlessly unsettling. For many, this means we say nothing or avoid the grieving person out of our own discomfort. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Oh gosh, that’s me! Yikes.” I’m glad you’re here to help build up your grief lingo!

The Reality of Grief

The taboo surrounding grief permeates all of our lives in complex ways. The reality that we will all live, lose, and grieve is one of the many guarantees of the human experience. As bell hooks describes in All About Love, grief is our way of continuing our commitment to the ones we have lost. hooks explains that grief is an act or a representative of our love. Therefore, we will grieve and mourn if we have loved and lost. Although grief is ever present in the human experience, we are under-educated in processing and holding space for it. We rarely discuss the side-effects of grief and what is “normal” until we are in the throes of our own grieving experience, or made witness to someone else’s grief. The persistent isolation that occurs directly contradicts the reality that what heals grief is love, connection, and community. 

Although many of us don’t intentionally leave our friends alone, if we do it can leave them isolated with limited opportunities to connect with others about grief and life in general. In some ways, grief is a language of its own. It comes with difficulties many other daily conversations don’t have. However, connecting with others while grieving is incredibly important – even if they’re not experts themselves. 

How to Support a Grieving Friend

Below you will find some example conversation starters, or suggestions on things to say or do when you don't know what to say to someone who is grieving. Before that, though, we’d like to share some grief ground rules:

  1. It’s okay to be uncomfortable; your friend is probably uncomfortable too. 
  2. You can’t take their pain away. You can bring comfort, though! 
  3. You don’t need to be a grief expert; it’s okay if you’re not confident speaking grief! 
  4. Be conscious of the environment in which you’re bringing up the conversation. A work meeting may not be the best place to bring it up. 
  5. Your friend is already aware of the loss.

What to Say to a Grieving Friend: 

  • “There are no words; I care so much about you and want to be here however I can.” 
  • “I’m heading to the grocery store. Is it okay if I pick up a few things for you?” 
  • “I don’t know how you feel, but I want to be here.” 
  • “It’s okay to not be okay right now.” 
  • “I don’t have the words, but I would love to listen.” 
  • “Grief doesn’t have an end date; please know you can talk to me about your [person] a month, a year, or 10 years from now.” 
  • “There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this.” 

If you're looking for other ways to support a grieving friend, consider offering a hug or another idea from this Care & Feeding of your Grieving Person guide from Refuge in Grief:

Connecting with one another during hard times is especially difficult but so meaningful. During difficult times, it may feel like there’s increased pressure to say the “right thing,” but truly being present and kind goes such a long way. You may not feel totally confident speaking about grief yet, but in no way do you have to be an expert to help provide some relief. Be kind to yourself; you’ve got this! 

Additional Readings & Resources 

It's OK That You're Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn't Understand by Megan Devine

The Best Books to Comfort A Grieving Friend 

Refuge in Grief: How to Help a Grieving Friend