What Can You Say to Family When Someone is Dying?

Helpful tip: Hospice care tends to last from several days to six months. For someone who spends months in hospice, there will be more opportunities to write and visit, so consider reaching out multiple times.

What Can You Say to Family When Someone is Dying?

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When death shakes a family’s foundation, offering words of condolences when their family member is dying is one of the many ways of being there for them. Saying words of love and encouragement can mean the world to a person who is suffering the loss of their loved one. Even if it feels challenging, know that you don’t need to say anything profound or offer expert advice.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Sharing your sincere sentiments can go a long way in helping others cope with their grief. Nothing takes away their immediate pain and suffering, but they can find some measure of comfort in your expressed condolences.

If you have a friend who is dealing with the impending loss of a cherished loved one, here are some words to share in person or on the phone. Sharing in their grief helps create a sense of community and will help your friend and their family feel less isolated.

Post-loss tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, the emotional and technical aspects of handling their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one’s family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

How to Offer Your Words in Person or on the Phone

How to decide what to say

Deciding what to say can sometimes be the hardest thing to do. Should you do it in person? By phone? Or by text? Some people don’t know what to say, and thus say nothing at all. They create this awkward situation that leaves them feeling shame and guilt over not having offered their condolences.

The more time that passes, the harder it is to address the family’s loss and grieving. Not saying anything at all is one of the worst things you can do when someone you know is suffering the death of their loved one.

What to consider

Was this someone whom you only saw on occasion, or was it someone who played a major role in your life? Are you closer to certain family members than to the deceased? Are you expressing your condolences out of respect for the family’s loss? Or do you share in their pain and suffering? You should consider all these things when deciding what to say and how to say it.

Some examples of what to say

Another common thing to say is, “ May God be with you during your time of grief. ” Be mindful when offering condolences centered on religion or spirituality. Not everyone has the same belief system, and some may not be open about their religion, faith, and spirituality. Other ways of expressing condolences vary among the different cultures in our society.

We Will Be Okay

According to Tracy, it’s stressful for someone in hospice to worry about how loved ones will get along without them. So even though it probably feels far from okay to lose someone close to you, it’s important to communicate that you will be okay, and that important people and pets will be taken care of, too.

  • “You’ve taken such good care of all of us for so long. We’ll miss that, and we’ll miss you, but we’ll be all right. We’ll find ways to take care of each other.”
  • “One thing I want to make sure you know is that I will honor you in taking care of the kids and do the same things for them that you would have done.”
  • “I hope it eases your mind a little to know Spot is going to make his new forever home with Kathy and Tom. They’re happy to have him, and they promise to love him just like you do.”
  • “Of course, I’m going to miss you like crazy, but you don’t need to worry about me. I’ll be okay.”
  • “Maybe we’re not exactly okay right now, but in time, we will be. Luckily, we’ve got a lot of caring people around us to help us through after you’ve gone.”
  • “I hope you’re not worried about anyone or anything right now. I hope you simply feel surrounded by love.”

Helpful tip: It’s fine to honestly acknowledge how awful or unfair it is that this person you care about is dying. But don’t dwell there. Try to follow the acknowledgement with comfort: “This is so hard, but it’s good to know you’re home with your family around you…” Or, “I really hate the thought of losing you, but I’m glad you don’t have to keep struggling so hard anymore…”

Life and Legacy

It’s also helpful for a person who is dying to hear they added something good to the world, their life mattered, and their influence will live on—in things they achieved, lessons they taught, traditions you’ll keep, and beyond.

  • “I hope you’re proud of the amazing family you’ve raised. Thanks for putting some good humans into the world.”
  • “You’re someone who has used your life to touch so many others. I’ll always feel incredibly lucky that mine was one of them.”
  • “You’ve shaped our community in ways that will live on beyond you, so thank you.”
  • “Okay, so clearly you didn’t invent a cure for cancer. But you’ve still done so many good things in life—for your family, for your church, in your career, and for all of us who care about you. I hope you feel great about the difference you’ve made.”
  • “Just so you know, we’ll be pouring an extra glass for you at wine book club. You’ve been the heart and soul of our crew, and we plan to keep it going in your honor.”
  • “I wish my kids were old enough to know you better, but don’t worry. They’re going to know all your funny stories and weird traditions. They’ll know their Papa Frank is a huge part of what makes our family so great.”
  • “A friend like you doesn’t come along very often. You made so many tough times easier and the best times even better. I hold every memory we’ve made together close to my heart.”

Helpful tip: “The end of life is hard, but it can also be beautiful,” Marn says. “So be present however you can. Do your best to make it about that person and not about you or your nervousness about saying the wrong thing.”

What to Say to Someone Who Is Dying of Cancer

Your loved one who is dying of cancer might like to know that their family and friends care about them. Even though you don’t feel like you’re doing anything, just being there sends a message that you love. You can say or do the following things to help them on their final journey:

  • Listen to the dying person’s final words. They may bring up death, their concerns, or their dreams.
  • Try not to prompt an answer that confirms your views or expectations that things will improve. Make an offer to connect them with a spiritual care practitioner if you think it would be simpler for them to do so.
  • Be as normal as you can with someone who is dying, and share stories about your own life in the process. In this way, you’re letting them know that they remain an important part of your life.
  • Avoid saying something like, “You’ll be up and running in no time.” Such comments prevent people from expressing their true feelings, such as anger, fear, and faith.
  • If you believe you stated something incorrectly, please apologize.
  • If anything doesn’t sit well with you, tell them so. They also might be feeling anxious. It’s fine to admit that you have no idea what to say.
  • It’s okay for you or the person who is dying to cry or vent your feelings of frustration. These are normal reactions to a distressing circumstance.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for clarification. It’s okay to say, “I wonder whether there’s something you want to talk about?” if you feel comfortable asking them directly.
  • Encourage them to open out about their experiences if they’re willing and able. Sharing recollections can provide people with a sense of purpose and assurance that their lives mattered and were remembered.
  • Just show up. Companionship might be just as important as the contentment of watching TV or reading a book together.
  • When death is near, even those who have shown no interest in religion in the past may suddenly become interested. If they don’t want to pray together, you can still offer to do so, but be respectful of their views.

Things to Say When Someone Dies

Death is a sensitive topic, and what you say following death will depend largely on the circumstances. When death comes as a surprise, the shock might be even greater. When a loved one dies, these are some of the most common encouraging phrases to say to their loved ones:

  • What an amazingly strong person you are. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. How do you feel today?
  • Please accept my condolences for the difficult time you are facing. Do you mind if I bring you something to eat later?
  • My heart goes out to you. I’m available whenever you need anything.
  • I wish I could say something that would make this better. I’m going to miss them too. Do you mind if I call you later today?
  • I believe that what you are going through is simply unfair. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to support you in any way.
  • I’m sorry to hear about the death of your loved one. If you want to talk about anything, let me know.
  • I’m very aware of how much they meant to you. I am here to support you and am willing to lend a hand in whatever way you require.

To say goodbye to someone you care about requires time and effort; it is not something you can do in a split second. What to say to a family when someone is dying doesn’t need to be formal. After you’ve said what has to be said, keep showing your support and love. Speak from the depths of your soul and trust your intuition. Be guided by the love you have for one another.



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