Skip to main content

Loss of a Loved One - Ways to Comfort the Bereaved

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Loss of a Loved One

The loss of a loved one is surely one of life’s most difficult experiences. If a person is losing a loved one to some horrid disease, it is an extremely emotional time. The grief of the impending loss is often overwhelming and no one really has the right words to make that person feel better.

It is especially difficult when that loved one is dying of a painful disease, like cancer. The bereaved are struggling with fear, intense emotions, depression, anger and sometime guilt.

I cannot even imagine the loss of a child, especially a young child. I would not know what to say to someone experiencing that loss. This is the worst thing that can happen to a parent.

Peace Dove


Death of a Spouse

I was in the grocery story today and two men were checking out right next to me. They had some beautiful bouquets of flowers. As I never seem to meet a strange, I said to them, “Those beautiful flowers are going to make someone very happy.” One of the men looked at me with immense sadness on his face and said This is my 36th wedding anniversary and it’s too bad she won’t be able to see these.”

My heart sank as I scrambled, trying to think of something appropriate to say. “I’m so sorry for your loss.” I paused and said, “There are no words I can think of to say that will help you.” He said, “She has not died yet, but it will be soon. She won’t open her eyes again, and we’ve been married for 36 years,” he repeated. Again I said, “I am so sorry. God bless you.” He just nodded his head as the men walked away with the flowers.

I have thought about this encounter a lot today. I cannot think of anything else that I could have said, but I felt such empathy for him. I felt helpless, as I could not help in any way. There are no perfect words. When I got in my car I prayed for him, his wife and their family. Then, it occurred to me how grateful I am for my family.

Loss of Friend – Stages of Grief

Then, the previous Saturday I attended a funeral for a friend I had known for 30 years. She had lung disease, secondary to rheumatoid arthritis. She had an emergency surgery and her lungs just were not strong enough to allow recovery. Her husband of 24 years is devastated, and I know him quite well, so talking with him was a bit easier than it was with the stranger.

We laughed and we cried as we recalled numerous events that happened through the years. I could see him going through the common stages of grief that we have heard so many times; denial, anger; bargaining, depression; acceptance written about extensively by Kublar Ross.

Proper Way to Grieve

There is certainly no wrong or right way to grieve. It is an individual experience. Even knowing the stages of grief, people do not necessarily follow a specific order and often go back and forth between the stages until they have reached acceptance. There is no timetable and sometimes the best thing we can do as relatives or friends is to just listen.

What is the best thing to say to someone when they have lost a loved one? Most importantly, be genuine in your communication. Speak from your heart. You might say, “I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I am here for you.”

You can also offer support my asking them if there is any way you can help. If you are just seeing this person for the first time, say something like, “I am so sorry to hear that Frank died.”

Then ask them how they are feeling. Communicating your sympathy sincerely is appreciated by the bereaved individual. Listening is important, so let them tell you how their loved one died. They may repeat some stories over again as they work through their grief.

We all have our ideas of what happens when a person dies, but do not say, “This is all part of God’s plan.” They may not feel that way. Avoid any statement that tells them what to do, so do not use sentences that start with “You should.” Do not ever say “I know how you feel.” Even if you have lost a loved one, you cannot assume you know how another person feels. Offer comfort and reassurance.

Dying of Cancer - songs dealing with death,loss, grief

Elton John – Candle In The Wind

John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Poem

These are a couple of the lines from a poem that touch my heart:

Oh I have slipped

the surly bonds of Earth….

Scroll to Continue

Put out my hand,

and touched the face of God.

What a beautiful transition to death.

Personal View

For me personally, I am not afraid to die. I have had a good life, and I believe I will see God and all those who passed on before me. The Bible tells me there are no more tears and no more pain, which makes perfect sense since you do longer have a physical body.

I like to think of death as my spirit simply moving from the physical world to the spiritual one as simply as walking through a door. I love the poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. He was a WWII Canadian pilot who wrote a beautiful poem, which has nothing to do with death, however, this is my vision of leaving this life and moving on to my spiritual life.

I do not want a funeral, but a celebration of my life is what I desire.

The copyright, renewed in 2018, for this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 21, 2020:

Hi Peggy,

It is difficult to lose people you care about or over. Grief can surely be difficult. I really appreciate your nice comments. God bless you too.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 21, 2020:

At our ages, we seem to be losing friends and loved ones on a more frequent basis. You are correct in saying that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone charts their own path. I believe as you do about not being afraid to die. It is only our physical body that we will be shedding when we enter the next life. Take care, Pamela, and may God bless you.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 29, 2012:

Denise, I love the picture with the dove also. It is so hard to loss someone you love. I just lost another friend Saturday, a special woman who was the one of the most giving people I've ever met. She never smoked, but lung cancer hit and she only lived 5 months. Heartbreaking loss again. I don't think you have to be super religious if you believe in God and it sounds like you dealt with John's death the best way you could. Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate the share also.

femmeflashpoint, I guess the best things we write are really when we share our feelings. I am comfortable with my beliefs. I appreciate your comments.

Denise, I don't know why the comment didn't show before but they are both here now. Thanks again.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on October 28, 2012:

Pamela-I left a previous comment for you about this hub. I don't see it here and it may 'appear' someplace out of the blue. This is a wonderful hub offering solid advice about helping a grieving person. You showed much compassion for the stranger in the store. Thank you for this...Up/U/I/A

femmeflashpoint on October 28, 2012:


This is beautifully written, and includes some truly helpful information. However, the very best part of the whole thing is the inclusion of your own thoughts about facing death.

It's an outlook that's brimming with the strength that comes from a "knowing", found deep in the soul.

My thanks to you for including your testimony.


Denise Handlon from North Carolina on October 28, 2012:

Pamela, I was looking for a hub of yours to share and realized I had not read this one. It is just very touching, including the videos.

I was blown away with the story you shared of the men in the store with the flowers. Oh, my gosh! What a moment! You handled it the very best you could and with such compassion.

I love the poem you included and am intrigued with the entirety of the poem. But, those lines certainly describe the heavens. The picture of the peace dove against the blue sky reminded me of the holy card we picked out for John, my husband. He was not super religious, although he believed in God, and it was the perfect picture to have in memory of him.

Thank you...UP/U/I/A/B and sharing.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on October 04, 2012:

Dutchess, I think being hands on is probably therapeutic in many ways. Thank you so much for your comments.

Duchess OBlunt on October 04, 2012:

Hi Pamela99. What a lovely hub. I know is't a sad subject but your compassion shows. I'm a hands on kind of person, so I like to help prepare the celebration on life for these. And I agree with you - I don't want a funeral!

Rated, and sharing on one of mine

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 09, 2012:

Maria, Thank you for such a heart warming comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and the songs.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on August 08, 2012:

Written with the soul and passion of a nurse, understandable, meaningful, allowing everyone to deal with this issue of loss in their way.

Your intuitive response and empathic demeanor to the man in the grocery store is heartwarming.

Both song selections are perfectly beautiful. The poetry in the first video is compelling and haunting.

Voted UP and UABI. Hugs, Maria

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 03, 2012:

Ann, I think it is probably used too frequently and there is no way to know if that individual is sincere. Actually bringing a casserole to your home or maybe getting their teenager to mow your grass would be truly sincere gestures. However, I really do think most people don't know what to say so you hear a lot of the old cliches. Thank you for your comments.

Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on August 02, 2012:

Pamela, some good suggestions, here. I like that you emphasized that you don't always know what to say, so you should just say that and be genuine. I've been through a lot of grieving in my life; I've lost family members, and a husband. The one thing that always bugged me was "If you ever need anything, just ask." To me, it sounds so shallow. I know most people who say it are sincere, but it just sounds phony. Could be because it's used so much.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on August 01, 2012:

groggyfish, I'm so glad you wound the hub useful and I appreciate your comments.

teaches, Thank you f0r sharing your personal experience. with your friend. It is important to be supportive but it can be awkward sometimes. I appreciate your comments.

Dianna Mendez on July 31, 2012:

I voted this one way up, Pamela. It is a great comfort to so many, I'm sure. I like your suggestion on what to say: I'm here for you. I had a friend who also stated the same thing when she lost her child: just having someone there for you in case you need is is comforting.

frogyfish from Central United States of America on July 31, 2012:

Your gentle advice is helpful for us to a time of needing to comfort another. Beautiful and meaningful. Your first video was totally intriguing too, enjoyed Elton again. Thank you very much.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 31, 2012:

unknown spy, Thank you so much for your very kind comments.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on July 31, 2012:

Pamela you are such a kind and loving person. You have helpful tips here and wonderful suggestions. God bless.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 31, 2012:

Ruby, I am sorry to hear you lost your sister, Virgie. I like to celebrate the life in pictures rather than just totally focus on the loss. Thanks for your comments.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 31, 2012:

Billly, Thank you so much for your kind comments. You always has something wonderfully positive to say.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on July 30, 2012:

This is an important hub for me. I just recently lost my sister Virgie. I have felt a loss daily. We celebrated her life in pictures, which made it so much easier. I believe as you. We will see our loved ones again when we cross over. Thank you..

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 30, 2012:

Beautiful words from a beautiful human being. Wonderful words of advice, Pam! I could have used this hub forty years ago. Your kindness and compassion shine through your writings.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2012:

drbj, I agree with you completely. It is sometimes so difficult as the words don't change the grief a bit but listening and offering assistance can make a difference. Thanks for your comments.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on July 30, 2012:

These were excellent suggestions, Pamela, for comforting someone who suffers a loss. It is usually difficult to find just the right words but being there, offering assistance and just plain listening are often the most comforting things to do.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2012:

Nell Rose, I am sorry to hear you have lost so many that were dear to you. I think your different reactions are not uncommon at all. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I always appreciate your comments.

Nell Rose from England on July 30, 2012:

Hi Pamela, this is such a helpful and thoughtful hub. Its one of the most painful things to lose somebody, and as you mentioned we can never say I know how you feel because everybody feels differently. I know when I lost my dad I acted in the strangest way, I cried, lost all emotion and took myself of down the coast with my son and just sat on the beach. It took me weeks to fall to pieces, with my mum I just fell straight away, and it took years for me to feel happier again, then I lost my aunt who was really close and it all started again, nell

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2012:

POP, I can certainly imagine that your situation is still difficult. I was so fortunate to have my parents and I still have my mother. Everyone loves her and there are many good memories. Of course, we all miss dad. I appreciate your sharing your experience and your comments.

SusieQ, Thank you so much for your comments. God bless you also.

Giselle, I know it is difficult to know what to say because that has been my experience at times. I appreciate your comments.

Giselle Maine on July 30, 2012:

This hub is helpful and beautiful. I like the phrasings you suggested; it definitely helps to have your guidance in this type of situation. Thanks for creating a hub on this sensitive topic.

SusieQ42 on July 30, 2012:

This is a beautiful hub for those who have lost a loved one. I have and I know what you wrote is true. God bless, Susieq42

breakfastpop on July 30, 2012:

You are a lovely person and it shows in this hub. Grieving is a process individual to each person. There are no rules. In time ,wounds heal but the loss is always there. I suffered the loss of both my parents when I was a lot younger. Neither of them every saw my children. I have a hole in my heart to this day.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 30, 2012:

Faith, Thank you for sharing this hub. Blessings to you.

Mhatter, That accounts for many long years together. I appreciate your comment.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on July 29, 2012:

August 22, 2003 We started going steady April 27, 1966

Faith Reaper from southern USA on July 29, 2012:

P.S. I am sharing on Facebook, as a friend at church just lost her mother. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 29, 2012:

Gail, I would also hope to die with dignity and in the presence of love. What more could we ask? Of course, no one wants to die in pain. Thank you so much for your comments. Much appreciated.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 29, 2012:

Faith, My beliefs are the same as yours. I appreciate your comments. God bless you also.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 29, 2012:

Lord, I agree, we don't know why some go first and I try not to ask that question anymore. As a critical care nurse I saw many people die and the ones that had faith weren't afraid to die. I'm sorry you have experience so much loss and I very much appreciate your comments.

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on July 29, 2012:

What a beautiful, sensitively written hub about how to comfort the bereaved.

I agree with everything you've said here, especially this line: "There is no timetable and sometimes the best thing we can do as relatives or friends is to just listen."

I've never read the John Gillespie Magee poem, but the verse you mentioned matches my own view of how death will be.

I do not fear death itself though I hope I'll live a long and healthy life. When my time comes I hope I will die with dignity and in the presence of love.

Voted up across the board except for funny.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on July 29, 2012:

Really great advice here, Pamela. It is difficult to know what to say, but sometimes just listening and just letting them know you are there for them, is the best, as you stated. I am not afraid to die either, as I know once absent the body, present with Jesus, and I will get to see all my loved ones who have gone on. God bless you. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Joseph De Cross from New York on July 29, 2012:

Conforting words from the heart. We certtianly don't understand why the good, seems to leave earlier. Have experienced loss left and right, and there is some kind od deliverance, knowing that we will go one day in peace. Great words, and wonderful setting. Better yet, when we know you were in the medical field Pam. Thanks!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on July 29, 2012:

SilverGenes, Thank you for your comments as that is exactly what I wanted to accomplish with this hub. Having had those 2 experiences lately I was really thinking about how difficult it can be to know what to say. Thanks again.

SilverGenes on July 29, 2012:

Pamela, this a very thoughtful and helpful hub. We often shy away from the words 'death' and 'dying' and when meeting someone who has experienced a recent loss, struggle for the right words to provide comfort. We can't provide comfort at such a time but we can be there to support and help. You mentioned the person's name in one of your suggestions and I agree with you wholeheartedly that hearing our loved one's name spoken aloud is very important. Your hub offers some very sensitive and truly helpful advice in a difficult time.

Related Articles