When attending a friend’s funeral, or participating in the funeral arrangements of a loved one, you may feel at a loss for words when talking with the deceased’s family members. What can you say or not say while being mindful of the emotions of the bereaved family?

We often ponder with such dilemmas and many times go away having said very little. But when you say the right words, you are able to provide comfort and an avenue for healing for the family. You can express your sympathy, offer a helping hand and appropriately show respect to those in mourning.

Deciding on the appropriate words to say can be tricky. We share some tips on what you can say to the bereaved family members at a funeral.

Expressing your sympathy

It is always appropriate to convey your sympathies for the deceased family’s loss. Offer a few sympathetic and kind words. Being honest is a safe bet too – you can always go with “I’m at a loss of what to say, but I am sorry for your loss”.

Take note of their body language. If they don’t feel like talking, give them space. Sometimes, you don’t have to hold a lengthy conversation. Your physical presence can already bring comfort to those who have just lost someone.

If the deceased is not religious, avoid saying that he is in a better place or with God. This can make you seem insensitive and uncaring – it may be more appropriate to say that at a Christian funeral for example.

Share a memory

If finding the right words to connect with the emotions of the bereaved is hard, try to connect with the qualities of the deceased. “She was a talented artist, her creativity was boundless”, or “He was a kind and generous person”.

Let them know a heartwarming memory you shared with the deceased that will elicit a smile. Family members will enjoy hearing stories and memories of how their loved one had made a difference in others’ lives. You can also include a personal anecdote of the deceased and say that they will be dearly missed.

Offer a helping hand

As people lose their loved ones, you want to be there to support them through the tough moments. Let them know that you can be reached at any time whenever they need anything. It is important to offer your support, but also crucial that you allow space for them to grieve in private.

If you had just received the news, you can also offer to be there and accompany them throughout the funeral arrangement process. It is an emotionally trying time, so you can handle some aspects of the funeral planning and unload some of the burden. A few weeks after the funeral service, you can also check in with them and check how they’re doing to let them know they are cared for.

Show respect

Avoid calling attention to yourself with things like “I know how you feel”. Everyone’s grief is different, and it can come across as being dismissive of the surviving family’s feelings, even if you have experienced losing a loved one. During emotional times, even the best-intended words can be misconstrued or misunderstood by those in mourning.

If their reaction is not something that you expected to receive, be quick to follow up with and apology. Let them know you acknowledge the significance of their loss and express your love and concern for them.