What Not To Say When Someone Dies. What To Say At A Funeral

What You Say When Someone Dies.  What To Say At A Funeral.  What To Say In A Letter Of Condolence
By Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

What to say when someone dies–what to say at a funeral, what to say in a letter of condolence–offers a great opportunity  to say something that will be cherished.  But you must be careful what you say, because emotional situations are often fraught with danger.

Never say that you understand exactly how they feel–that you lost a loved one recently, or you had a friend who died of cancer, etc.  Most people do not want to hear that.

I know it seems appropriate to signal that you feel the other person’s pain because you have been there yourself.  But that is not the way that it usually comes across.

When people grieve, they feel their uniqueness.  They are the  only people in the world who are feeling this kind of pain. It is small comfort to hear about someone else who has gone through the same experience.

It’s like your boss calling you in to tell you that you’ve been fired.  It doesn’t soften the blow if he tells you that he’s firing five other people, too.  Who cares?   Those other five won’t have to make your mortgage payments or scrape together money for food or Christmas presents for your kids.

It’s like being told that you have adrenal cancer, and only 80 out of, say, 10,000 ever get it.   Who cares about the 80?  It’s you that will be facing  death.

Later on, it may be appropriate for you to talk to a grieving person about your similar experience. But when other people have just experienced a loss, are reeling and trying to come to terms with it, they will not want to hear about the pain that you once experienced.

So, what to say?

One of the most memorable messages that was sent to me when I lost a daughter whom I dearly loved was a simple e-mail from a friend with these words:  “I am so, so, so very sorry. Let me know if there is anything I can do.”  Those three “so’s” made his message memorable.

Those simple words can be your template for what to say when someone dies, what to say in a letter of condolence, what to say at a funeral.  You can deliver it in writing, by email, in person, at the funeral.  “I am so, so, so very sorry!”  cannot be misinterpreted, and will be cherished.


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Gene Griessman is an award-winning professional speaker, actor, and consultant. His video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, contact us at 404-435-2225 or [email protected] Learn more about Gene Griessman at presidentlincoln.com and atlantaspeakersbureau.com


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Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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3 Responses to What Not To Say When Someone Dies. What To Say At A Funeral

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