Grief is always a complicated process and its effects are different for each individual. Consoling someone in grief is also a delicate situation and saying “I’m sorry for your loss” doesn’t really help that much to alleviate the person’s pain.
There are reasons for not saying this phrase to a grieving person and some suggestions on what to say instead.
Why We Shouldn’t Say “I’m Sorry for Your Loss”
Grief needs more than a cliche
Family members hearing “I’m sorry for your loss” from so many people doesn’t alleviate their pain but only keeps hammering them about the painful situation that they are in. It provides no consolation at all. It is the most common response to this kind of situation; so much so that it almost loses its sincerity. It has become a programmed response but painful situations like the death of someone important in a person’s life need more than just a cliche.
It supports the wrong mental programming
Saying “I’m sorry for your loss” also evokes the wrong mental programming by tiptoeing around the subject of death. When you tell someone that they have lost something, it acknowledges that the matter is a personal experience but it also avoids the actual situation. When someone losses something, it means that the person did something that resulted in the loss but the real situation is that they are grieving for someone else who died. Saying the cliche phrase only takes them away from the real situation and does not help in their healing process.
What We Should Say Instead
There are alternatives to the cliche that would be more helpful to people who are grieving. These responses are clearer, focuses on the actual situation of someone dying but provides the grieving person the support they need to process their situation.
“I’m so sorry to hear about [name of the person who died]. I’m sure you’re going to miss her/him terribly. How are you holding up right now? / What can I do to help?”
“I’m sorry that you are suffering right now but I will be here with you and will help you anyway I can. Is there anything you need right now?”
“I’m sorry for the challenges that might lie ahead of you but I’m here and willing to help you. Would it be okay with you if I call you up next week to check in with you?”
“Please accept my deepest condolences. I can’t imagine what you must be going thru right now but I know it must be very challenging. If there’s anything I can do to help, don’t hesitate to call me.”
“I know there’s nothing I can say right now to make things better but I know talking about it will help so don’t hesitate to call me if you need to talk to someone.”
Sometimes, a few words and a hug is all it takes to express our support.
“I know it’s hard…” is a good way to start communication with an aggrieved person as it acknowledges their current situation.
“Let me help” is a very supportive way to show someone you are willing to help them to process their pain.
“I’m here for you” is a powerful way to assure someone that you will support them during this challenging time in their life.
“You have my heart and support” tells the grieving person that you resonate with their suffering and are willing to share their burden.
All these alternative phrases acknowledge the situation while providing the grieving person the go signal for processing their grief. Supportive words like these allow for the grieving person to feel supported instead of being isolated by those around them, making the grieving process an easier burden to bear and leading them to the healing stage much faster.