It can be very hard to know want to do or say when someone dies, especially when you see people you care about grieving. Here are some simple ways you can be there for them and offer your condolences.
Before you reach out, take time to prepare what you might say. When supporting someone where you were not close to the person who died, perhaps wait until the public wake or funeral. Remember that it's easy for people to get overwhelmed by the number of friends and acquaintances contacting them just after a death.
Share a Memory
People whose loved one has died often value being offered personal, positive memories of their special person. It is best to keep this memory brief, about a sentence or two. The person who is grieving will have a lot going on and may find long reminiscences too painful or too complicated to take on board.
Focus on them
People often say things like "I know how you feel" or "I can't imagine what it's like" when they offer condolences. People who are grieving may not find these phrases helpful. They may think "You DON'T know how I feel". Instead of making condolences about you, focus on the person with the more acute loss. Try simple phrases such as “I am sorry for your loss" or "You are in my thoughts" instead.
There may not be an absolutely right thing to do when we respond to someone's grief. In fact no-one knows what to do, so it is important to take the risk of showing support. It can help to be specific with your offer of help and be ready to follow through if they accept it. Often the time leading up to and just after the final service is very busy for those closest to the person who died. Remember them in the weeks and months following the funeral.
People who are grieving may experience many strong and difficult emotions- perhaps ones like anger, relief or resentment that we cannot relate to. Sometimes we may be in the firing line when we try to offer our support and they may get angry or snap at our efforts. Be prepared to be empathetic. It can help to re-focus yourself on the intention behind your words even while focussing on acknowledging the hurt they are feeling.