Help: Someone Died! What Do I Say Or Do?

I posted this on Facebook on November 17, 2015, and within a day it had been seen by over 1 million people and shared over 6k times. So I figured it was time to put it in a blog so it can be referred to again and again.

You asked for a quick and straightforward list to review when the time applies to you and yours so here it is. I realize there are hundreds more so, please feel free to add them in the comments section and I will add them to the blog. Also, I understand everyone grieves differently, and some of these won’t apply to everyone. From my years in the grief world, I’ve found they apply to most.

Let me give a few tips for those who don’t know how to be there for friends who are grieving.


Your first instinct is going to be to give them their space, WRONG ANSWER. Please don’t run away, go to them as fast as you can and keep going to them for years to come.

2 – Say the name of the person who passed and never stop saying it

Everyone is afraid to say the name of the deceased as if they never existed. This is one of the most painful experiences for nearly all grieving people. We never want to forget them so keep saying their name forever.

3 – Please don’t say, “They are in a better place” or “God needed them more” or “God only gives you what you can handle”

These platitudes are just bullshit (excuses my language) and they don’t help at ALL. Even if the survivor is a person of faith I still find in most cases that these sentences do not offer any peace for a very long time. Maybe, MAYBE in several years these platitudes will offer some comfort but don’t be surprised if they never do.

4 – Don’t tell them to “move on” or “get over it”

Ugh, where do I start? Those who live with loss do not MOVE ON….we MOVE FORWARD, and we have no other choice. Daily we take steps to move our life forward, but we never forget the person who passed or the life we shared.

5 – Don’t ignore them thinking they need their space

For the love of all that is good – please don’t ignore the grieving. Take them to a funny movie, call them and offer to come over and hang for coffee, invite them to dinner. Sometimes they will say yes and sometimes they will say no but please don’t stop asking! There is no time frame either, so keep asking long after THE YEAR that society allows someone to grieve.

6 – Don’t say, “At least you had love” or “At least they lived a long life”

Yep, no help. NONE. Downright hurtful. There is no AT LEAST.

7 – Don’t ask what they need – Just do something for them

People who are grieving are often lost and a shell of a human themselves. If I’m honest, they don’t know what they need in life except for their loved one back. Just show up, take them dinner, babysit their kids and let them get a massage or a good cry. Just let them be NORMAL for a few minutes.

8 – Don’t expect them EVER to be the same EVER

Once you grieve, you are changed for LIFE! Never say, “I miss who you were before they died” because who they were before their person died, also died.

9 – Don’t be surprised or judgmental about anything they do

We all grieve in our way, yet nearly every grieving person I know has been judged for their process. See my blog: Widowhood and the Glass House of Grief

10 – Don’t say “I know how you feel”

Oh my, this one will get you in REAL trouble. I’ve heard it all from, “my goldfish died when I was 4” to “my friend’s grandma died four years ago, and I know how you feel.” Listen, I’m very sorry for your grief, but you do not know how I feel after the father of my two young kids and my partner died. See my blog: Widowhood and the Dangers of Grief Comparison

11 – Don’t Make People Replaceable

Somehow in our society, we believe that if a widow/widower remarries or starts dating or if a parent has another child – that they are somehow ALL BETTER — what a crock of crap. Listen, people are not replaceable, and love is not mutually exclusive. Loving one person does not replace the love you had for the other person who has passed on. See my blog: Dear Widow Police

12 – Don’t stop saying their loved one’s name

Oh, did I repeat that one? THAT’S BECA– USE IT’S FREAKING IMPORTANT. Six years later and I still want to hear about MITCH. Don’t worry, you saying their name does not remind us of our loss – we never forget.

10 thoughts on “Help: Someone Died! What Do I Say Or Do?

  1. Jennifer Shurnas April 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Organize a meal drop-off volunteer group. Have one coordinator to head organization and communication with volunteers as to not further overwhelm the bereaved. Keep a cooler outside the home for meals to be placed in for the purpose of leaving the bereaved in control of having visitors or not. I was personally overwhelmed with people with good intentions to offer support, but often felt I was supporting THEIR grief: very draining to a heart and soul that was running on low reserves. Keep meals relatively light and avoid heavy foods, such as lasagne. Your appetite is poor as a grieving person, so nutrient dense lighter fare is usually preferred. Meal coordinator can get some direction from the bereaved.

  2. Patricia Feisel April 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Continue to be there. So many people promise that they will and aren’t. One of the hardest things is watching people go back to their daily lives and I was an after thought. I needed the same family support 6months, a year or even 2 that I did in the early days. It doesn’t get easier we just learn to live with it.

  3. THANK YOU. My son died 9 years ago at the age of 24 and people have a hard time bring him or memories of him up in conversation. He is always with my husband and daughter so NEVER stop talking about. Yes we miss him but we NEVER stop thinking about him and include him in all of our deeds and thoughts.

  4. Margaret Matteoli April 12, 2019 at 12:55 am

    My question I hate is How are you??? How the hell do you think I am!!?? My 26 year old son died 28 weeks ago in a farming accident. Sometimes I say miserable, heartbroken, sad. Sometimes maybe I will say ok to just end conversation.

  5. Tammy Villeret April 12, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    Thank you. You hit the nail on the head.

  6. Great suggestions!

    #3 I think depends on the situation. My husband died after a long illness. When he died his suffering was over. He is in a better place. Of course, here, healthy would be even better, but that wasn’t possible. Even he wanted the suffering to be over. There were times I would say “what else can I do for you?” And his answer was always “do you have a gun?” It was awful to watch. I can’t say that his death was a relief, a whole new suffering started for me and my children at that point, but it was over. His suffering was over.

    Totally agree on “don’t say ‘I know how you feel’”. Even if it’s the same situation, we don’t know how someone else feels, ever!! I never say that about anything.

    I would also add “keep inviting them to social things. Invite them for lunch or dinner or to go shopping.” There comes a point when you realize a social event happened and you weren’t invited to because you’re not a couple any more. That hurts! Sometimes it’s not appropriate like my two friends (couples) who went out together on Valentine’s Day to celebrate together. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to that, but organize a girls night or a guys night among your friends, even if you hadn’t done so much of that before.

  7. The one thing I would add is
    *Don’t assume children will be ok if they are young because “they won’t remember” the loved one. I lost my dad when I was 8 years old, my twin brothers were 5, and I had 2 older sisters. People have actually said, “Oh, you probably don’t remember him then,” like that would make it better. If anything, we all remember him more!!! His death was the most traumatic thing that ever happened to us, and my memories are stronger than ever.

  8. YES! We need to keep posts like this going and going! After my daughter died, I heard all the hurtful cliches and felt the absence of others in my life. All of that hurt SO BAD. Yet, I was once that person who shied away from saying anything. I didn’t want to “remind” peopel of their loss…now I know the grieving will NEVER forget. But, we don’t know what we don’t know. Let’s keep talking about grief and help people understand HOW they can help us.

    I felt so strongly about this message that I included an Appendix in the back of the book that I just published called Journey to HEALING: A Mother’s Guide to Navigating Child Loss. The Appendix is titled “for the supporters”. I have had more positive feedback on that Appendix than any other part of the book. And you know what the most interesting thing is? I can tell who has read that Appendix based on how they speak to me and my family now.

  9. I know it is difficult to know what to say when someone dies. And most intentions are good and that’s what I’ve tried to focus on. But one comment that is often heard and that I found personally difficult was being told how “brave” I was. I didn’t feel brave when my husband died; I was in extreme pain. I felt as if I had witnessed an avalanche take place in my life. Trying to meet the expectation of bravery is an additional stressor for someone who needs to grieve.

  10. LOVE IT and share it all the time.

    Remember their birthday and or anniversary remember to celebrate their life.

    Continue to show up and do/help. So much ends after the first few months.

    Just DO! We who are grieving often don’t know what we need or want. Wing it if needed.

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