What to Say When Someone Dies (And What Not to Say)

what to say when someone dies

Many people struggle with what to say when someone dies.

Nathan’s father passed away a couple of months ago, after battling an awful disease for three or four years. They had the blessing of knowing in advance what was coming; they had the awful burden of knowing in advance what was coming. Recently, he and I were talking about what people say when your loved one dies. I asked for his experience on the subject. This is what he wrote …

My first thoughts on what to say when someone dies were based on the biblical accuracy of things that are said after someone dies. Do people really believe what they say? If they do, where did they get those philosophies? I’m not suggesting there is a list of approved biblical phrases to use in this situation, only asking that we consider why folks craft and continue to perpetuate these flawed notions. I believe there is a danger turning faith into fairy tale for our own comfort. At the same time, it may help us to approach someone with biblical truths after we understand their line of thinking.

What Not to Say When Someone Dies: 9 Things

“God must really think you are strong because we know God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

“Your dad is in a better place.” (While I believe that my father is in a better place, this is along the lines of “He’s not suffering anymore.” It’s typically applied as if heaven is the default for anyone who wasn’t too bad.)

“Heaven has another angel.” (Whoa—God needed another angel?)

“He’s looking at you right now.” (How could heaven be free of tears and pain if they were watching us?)

“He’s still with us, watching over us.”

Without much more than a “Sorry for your loss,” a lengthy monologue on his/her own experience with loss. As selfish as it sounds, I’m grieving now and I don’t want to hear your story.

“I know how you feel.”

“God has a reason for everything.”

“You are in my thoughts.” (I never quite understood why this is supposed to comfort.) (Although, this is often shorthand for “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.” So, I wouldn’t be too rough on someone who says this.)

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Joe McKeever
Joe McKeever has been a believer over 60 years, has been preaching the Gospel over 50 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian Publications over 40 years. He lives in New Orleans.