What to Say During Difficult Times

People tell us frequently that they want to reach out to friends and loved ones who are coping with a serious illness or grieving a recent death, but they’re unsure of what to do or say. Sometimes they even end up saying nothing at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. Here is our best advice, based on years of experience. When in doubt, though, a loving gesture or word that comes from the heart is always appreciated.

In times of Grief

What to Say

  • Say, “I am so sorry.”
  • Give them opportunities to talk about the deceased and their relationship.
  • Let them share their memories.
  • Use the deceased person’s name.
  • Validate that grieving is normal.
  • Ask them how you can help.
  • Say, “Would you like a hug?”


What to Do

  • Try calling at times when your friend most misses a loved one. (For instance – Bedtime, Sundays, Birthdays, or Anniversaries)
  • Offer to wash dishes, do the laundry, help clean the house & run errands.
  • Offer to help write thank you notes.
  • Be attentive after some time – even months, paying particular attention to special days like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries.
  • Console with deeds, not just words.


Do Not Say…

  • “I know just how you feel…”  No one can truly know what another feels.
  • “Time heals all wounds…”  Time alone does not heal the pain.
  • “Aren’t you happy he’s in heaven?”They’re in a better place…”  This fails to honor the deep suffering of the bereaved. Although they may be comforted by their faith, the pain of missing loved ones is the present reality.
  • Do not compare your own loss experiences with theirs…  This takes the emphasis off their grief and loss and focuses the attention on you, not them.


In times of Illness

What to Say…

  • Allow Sadness.  Sometimes having a good cry with a friend is just what the patient needs.
  • Share Humor.  Even bad jokes are welcome.
  • Talk About Life.  This can make someone feel more involved in the outside world.
  • Tell Her She’s Beautiful.  Considering what illness does to a person’s looks, he/she can still want to feel attractive.
  • Talk About the Future.  Your ability to look ahead to a future that includes your friend or loved one can be very encouraging.


What to Do:

  • Cook a Dinner.  Offer a choice of two courses and bring the food in disposable or marked containers.
  • Bake Homemade Goodies.  Bring them frozen and ready to bake to be enjoyed any time.
  • Make an Offer Specific.  Say when you want to come and offer a choice of what you want to do.
  • Help With Holidays.  Offer to pick up special gifts, cards, decorations, or wrapping paper.
  • Call Ahead.  Keep your visits short and frequent when possible.
  • Offer to Watch TV.  This is a great way to spend time together without your friend hosting.
  • Visit the Spouse.  Caregivers can feel just as isolated as their patients and enjoy having visitors.


When someone is dying (approximately 48-72 hours from time of death):

  • Sit below the patient if possible
  • Sit quietly by the bedside
  • Play their favorite music very softly
  • Sing or hum softly
  • Read to the person
  • Occasional touch: light, gentle touch on forearm or forehead
  • Make sure only one bed sheet covers the person; don’t tuck in the sheet around their feet
  • Notify the nurse if you have any questions
  • Don’t ever do anything that makes the person or yourself uncomfortable
  • Be a loving presence – your being may be more important than your doing