What to Say When Someone Dies Unexpectedly: 25 Expressions

Published December 4, 2020
Comforting grieving friend

Many people want to know what to say when someone dies unexpectedly. When someone experiences the sudden loss of a loved one, it is natural to want to say things that will comfort and show concern. Many hesitate to speak anything in those circumstances, fearing to say the wrong thing. Whether at a funeral or in a condolence note sent with a gift, speaking simple words from the heart provides the best way to express your sympathy.

What to Say When Someone Dies Unexpectedly

If a friend or loved one has just lost someone unexpectedly, your words of support can provide comfort and support. Your presence, along with simple, sincere words, eliminate the isolation from grief and bolster the strength to continue. Say words that are true, not just words that you hope will help. Here are some examples of some meaningful things to say.

  • This must be so difficult for you. I am sorry for your sudden loss.
  • I was shocked to hear that George had passed away.
  • Your father was such a special, thoughtful man. He will be missed by so many.
  • I can't imagine how you must be feeling right now.
  • Please know that I am just a call or a text away. Reach out to me anytime.
  • I wish I had the right words to say to help you feel better. Just know that I am here if you need to talk or if you need anything.
  • We all loved George. He was always so generous to everyone [express a real attribute].
  • It must be difficult to find the energy or the time to do normal things right now. Can I help by getting you some dinner this evening or come over and straighten or clean?
  • These flowers are just my way of saying how much you mean to us. [Write and sign a more personal and sincere not to be added with the gift.]
  • So many things happen in life that don't make sense. I hope you can find support and peace in these difficult times.
  • George is gone but not forgotten. I will always remember his [tell a specific thing you will not forget]. (This well-known saying is personalized by telling a real characteristic. This may open a door to sharing memories that are positive.)
  • You are in our thoughts and prayers.
  • We just want to offer this condolence message on death of your father. He was an amazing person, and he lives on through you.
  • We lost a special person far too soon.
  • I cannot begin to express how sorry I am for your loss.
  • You are a strong person. We will get through this together.
  • I know how much George loved you. He was always singing your praises.
  • My favorite memory of George is the time [tell a specific story]. (Loved ones will be pleased to hear stories they may not know. If your interaction with the deceased was in a different setting, they will love to hear things that are new to them.)
  • My heart goes out to you during these times. Let me know if you need anything.
  • I just heard about your father's death. Please accept my most sincere condolences.

Knowing What to Say When Someone Dies Suddenly

Sharing words that communicate support is a part of expressing condolences. Here are some basic tips that will help in sharing meaningful words of respect.

Communicating Condolence

Overcome the Awkward Silence

It can be difficult to know how to start the conversation the first moments after you meet. It is important for you to break the silence and acknowledge the loss.

  • Make your words personal. "Martha, I am so very sorry. This must have come as such a shock."
  • Don't be afraid to use the name of the deceased. "I cannot believe George is gone. We just saw him the other day. You must be devastated."
  • Make sure they know you are concerned about them. "You must have so many things on your mind right now. I am here for you. Is there anything that you need?"

Show Empathy

Showing that you understand and care validates the person's feelings and strengthens the relationship between you. When you speak, face each other and maintain a comfortable eye contact. Use gestures and animations. If appropriate, extend a hug, take their hand or place a gentle touch of the shoulder or arm.

  • Affirm your understanding to their feelings of anger or uncertainty. "Yes, this makes you unsure about the future. I can certainly understand that."
  • Acknowledge the difficulty of the circumstance. "We can never prepare for a loss like this. This must be so difficult for you."
  • Respond to the emotions they express. "Of course you are shocked. That is such a natural reaction, isn't it?"
  • Add details when appropriate: "I remember you talking about that before" or "We talked about that the last time we were together."

Be Quick to Listen

One of the things someone mourning needs the most is a person that will listen. Being an active and supportive listener is not an easy task. Ask questions that will prompt a response from them. Your words can open the door for the other person to express their feelings. The more you listen, the easier the conversation will become.

  • Listen for their struggles and emotions. "You have been on my mind. I wanted to see how you are doing today. How are you managing?"
  • Listen for things you can do to help. "I have been thinking about how Martha's death must be effecting you. Is there anything that I can do for you?"
  • Listen to their stories. "Losing [name of deceased] without expectation must have created problems. What has been the most difficult for you?"

Phrases to Avoid

Even though it is difficult to see someone in pain, there are no words that you can say that will magically take away the pain or bring their loved one back. Avoid phrases that come across as a cliché.

  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • This must be a part of God's plan, or, God never gives us more than we can handle.
  • At least she is not suffering anymore.
  • Don't end up making the conversation be about you. Saying, "I know how you feel" has two problems. First, you don't know exactly how they feel. Second, it opens the door for you to talk about your experiences. This is not about you.

End the Conversation by Staying Connected

More than just words, the relationship the two of you share will ultimately strengthen and encourage the bereaved friend. Promise to meet again - and then make sure you follow up, even if you have to put it on your calendar or make a "tickler" note to yourself.

  • Don't walk through this difficult loss alone. Let's talk again soon.
  • After the hectic times settle down, let's get together for lunch.

Words That Help

Offering a few sincere words of support to the grieving is exactly what to say when someone dies unexpectedly. Experiencing loss often leaves someone feeling alone and suffering. Your words and your presence will provide strength and inspiration through the difficult times.

What to Say When Someone Dies Unexpectedly: 25 Expressions