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What not to say when someone dies

Posted on 13 September 2016

How to avoid the wrong words at the worst time

When a friend or family member is grieving, we want to help. But we don’t always know what to say when someone dies – for fear of putting our foot in it. Following these simple tips will help you find the right words of support and avoid causing any unintentional upset at a painful time.

5 phrases to avoid when someone dies

  1. 'There is a reason for everything'
    Don’t feel you have to rationalise or justify the death. It may be unexpected or feel unfair and utterly senseless to the people left behind.
  2. 'I know just how you feel'
    Even if you have lost someone yourself, we all cope with losing someone differently, and can never fully understand how another grieving person is feeling.
  3. 'At least they lived a long life'
    The death of an older person will still be painful. It’s hard to imagine how it feels to lose a partner after 60 years of marriage. Some say it’s like losing a limb.
  4. 'Are you over it yet?'
    Everyone grieves in their own way and it can take years, so be patient. The loneliest time for the bereaved may be weeks or months after the death, as friends and family get back to their normal lives and the reality of their situation sinks in.
  5. Nothing
    Sometimes saying nothing at all can be worse than saying the wrong thing. For the grieving person, it can feel like friends or family are ignoring them at precisely the time they need them most.
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5 alternatives to say when someone dies

  1. 'I'm here for you'
    The person may not want or need your help initially but appreciate it later. Don’t forget to check in regularly with a reminder that you’re there for them.
  2. 'I'm around most evenings if you’d like to chat'
    It can be especially helpful to let people know when and where they can reach you if they want to talk.
  3. 'Is there anything I can help you with?'
    Practical support can be just as meaningful as emotional support. After a death, there are so many things that need to be dealt with. Even helping with everyday tasks such as making a meal or picking up the bread and milk can make a difference. So offer - and keep offering.
  4. 'How are you doing?'
    An open question gives the bereaved person a chance to talk about how they are really feeling. You can’t heal them but you can hear them. So ask - and make the time to listen.
  5. A simple 'I don’t know what to say' can keep lines of communication open. Sometimes there are no ‘right’ words but it’s important to keep talking - about anything and everything. It shows you’re there and that you care.

Further pointers

If you're still unsure how to start the conversation, try sending a card or letter, an email or even a text. Then, when you follow up with a phone call, you can start by asking if they received your message and take it from there.

And remember, if you’re stuck for words a hug can speak volumes too.

Useful contacts

Dying matters has plenty of free resources to help you talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement. Similarly, the charity Cruse offers wide-ranging support to the bereaved and those who care about them.

If you found this article useful, you might like time to talk about death and funeral planning. You may also find how to write a eulogy and choosing poems and hymns for a funeral useful if you’re helping a loved one with funeral arrangements.

SunLife offers a range of straightforward and affordable products including over 50s life insurance, funeral plans, equity release, pet insurance, home insurance, car insurance, ISAs and Will writing services.

Here's the information that you need to know about who we are and the other companies that we work with in order to provide our products and services.

Who are SunLife?

Phoenix Life Limited trades as SunLife and is the provider of the Guaranteed Over 50 Plan, SunLife Insurance and the life insurance policy payment option for Funeral Plans. Phoenix Life Limited’s registered office is at 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 1016269). Dignity Funerals is not authorised or regulated for this activity by either the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority. Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

SunLife Limited distributes financial products and services and is a company limited by shares, registered office: 1 Wythall Green Way, Wythall, Birmingham, B47 6WG (registered in England, no. 05460862). SunLife Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and is entered on the Financial Services Register (registration no. 769427).

You can contact us by post at SunLife, PO Box 1395, Peterborough, PE2 2TR or by phone on 0800 008 6060.

If you choose to add Funeral Benefit Option to your Guaranteed Over 50 Plan the funeral services are arranged and provided by Dignity Funerals Limited. Dignity Funerals Limited is a company registered in England and Wales No. 00041598. VAT registered No. 486 6081 14. 4 King Edwards Court, King Edwards Square, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, B73 6AP. Telephone No. 0121 354 1557. Fax No. 0121 355 808. Part of Dignity plc. A British Company. Dignity is not authorised or regulated for this activity by the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority but is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Who provides the Funeral Plans?

Dignity Funerals Ltd arranges and provides the funeral services. Dignity Funerals is not authorised or regulated for this activity by either the Financial Conduct Authority or the Prudential Regulation Authority. Dignity Funerals Ltd is a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors.

The life insurance policy that pays for your funeral will be provided by Phoenix Life Limited, trading as SunLife.

Who provides My Smarter (ISA)?

My Smarter (ISA) is provided by Scottish Friendly Asset Managers Limited. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register, registration No. 188832. Member of The Investment Association. Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ.

Who provides the Will writing services?

Hugh James is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA Number:303202).

The information contained on this website is based on Hugh James' understanding of the law of intestacy in England and Wales only as at April 2014. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is significantly different. This is for information purposes and is not intended to be legal advice.

Who provides Family Life Insurance?

SunLife Family Life Insurance is provided by Scottish Friendly Assurance Society Limited which is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Details can be found on the Financial Services register (registration number 110002). Registered Office: Scottish Friendly House, 16 Blythswood Square, Glasgow G2 4HJ. 

Who provides SunLife Pet Insurance

SunLife Pet Insurance is arranged and administered by BDML Connect Limited. BDML Connect Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (No. 309140). Registered in England and Wales Number 02785540. Registered Office: 45 Westerham Road, Bessels Green, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN13 2QB.

Who provides SunLife Home Insurance

SunLife Home Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.

Who provides SunLife Car Insurance

SunLife Car Insurance is arranged and administered by BISL Limited and underwritten by a panel of insurers. BISL Limited are an intermediary authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered in England no. 03231094. Registered office Pegasus House, Bakewell Road, Orton Southgate, Peterborough PE2 6YS.