What To Say When Someone Dies – 8 Sympathy Messages To Replace “I’m Sorry”

What To Say When Someone Dies – 8 Sympathy Messages To Replace “I’m Sorry”

I’m sorry. Two words that are automatic in our vocabulary. In a breath, they show up on command just as they have been conditioned to. Without forethought. An attempt to fill the void.

I loathe these two words!

When a loved one dies, these are the first two words that everyone says. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry to hear about (fill in the blank). I’m so sorry. I wish we could erase those two words from all association with death and sympathy messages.

My life has been filled with “I’m sorry!” since Cameron died. When I hear those words I cringe. Responding is awkward. Thank you? It’s OK? I’ve grown to hate hearing those words. This feeling is quite common among people who have lost someone close to to them.

I try to remind myself the words are coming from a good place. People don’t know what else to say to show their sympathy. There is a need to fill the silence, the awkwardness. Believe me people will say some really stupid things in these moments. So we rely on our conditioning, and we automatically say, “I’m sorry.”

In an effort to help you break your conditioning, I’m going to tell you what you should say. Things that any grieving person would rather hear. Take these sayings and use them as your replacement. It takes some practice. I know because I had to break my own conditioning.

sympathy messages

Death is a tough subject. It makes many people uncomfortable, especially when around someone that is grieving. Here are 8 things you can say to help fill the void. Make you more comfortable. Help ensure the words you choose will not unknowingly cause that person more pain.


8 Sympathy Messages To Replace “I’m Sorry”:

  1. That sucks! – You can tone this down if needed. Some people get offended when they hear “sucks”. I actually got a card from someone that said, “How Shitty!” It was probably my favorite. Just know your audience.
  2. My heart breaks for you.
  3. I am so sad to hear
  4. You are in my thoughts.
  5. Sending you hugs. – If you are with them in person there is nothing better than just a silent hug. No need for words.
  6. There are no words.
  7. I am here for you. – Don’t ask them to tell you what they need. Just do for them.
  8. He/She will be missed. – If you knew them, you can talk about what you will always remember. Why you were lucky to know them. These were my favorite.

Since we are talking about what to say, let’s take a moment and talk about what to avoid as well!

4 Sympathy Messages To Avoid:

  1. I know how you feel. – Everyone experiences grief differently. It is best in this situation to just avoid this statement.
  2. This happened for a reason. – Even said in good intentions, anything like this should be avoided.
  3. It will be OK. – This can sound like you are making light of their grief. It will never be OK for them that their loved one is gone.
  4. Religious statements. – Unless you know the person shares your exact beliefs, it is best to avoid religion. After a great loss, many people question their faith. While that may seem like the perfect time to encourage them, it can cause anger or guilt. What may make you feel comforted, may not have the same effect on someone else.

It is always difficult when someone dies. By preparing yourself for what to say to someone who is grieving, it can help make the situation easier. Have you received other sympathy messages that were comforting?

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Comments ( 4 )
  1. squalls8@att.net
    May 24, 2016 at 6:05 AM

    Thank you. Death is so hard, and I never know what to say. “I’m sorry” is a conditioned response, feels canned. What does it even mean? It just kind of pops out because that’s what everyone says, and you don’t know what else to say. My heart breaks for you, and I was so sad when I read about Cameron. These words have so much more meaning and I feel as if I am communicating how I feel about your loss–heartbroken. Thank you for the alternative responses.

    • Emily Graham
      Emily Graham
      May 24, 2016 at 12:59 PM

      Thanks, Sheila. It is hard and no one knows what to say. A lot of people say dumb stuff without meaning to. It just makes everyone nervous so they stick to those conditioned responses. Glad this helped you.

  2. Becky
    January 20, 2017 at 3:58 AM

    Thank you for the beautiful alternatives to the words, I’m sorry.

    • Emily Graham
      Emily Graham
      January 20, 2017 at 4:34 AM

      Thanks for stopping by! XO

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