If you’re facing a significant loss, it can be difficult to know what to say when someone says “sorry for your loss.”
Whatever words they use, the meaning is the same: they feel sympathy, but both of you know that you aren’t in the same situation and that they couldn’t possibly know just how much you feel that loss and that grief.
In this guide, we’re going to go over some easy ideas of what to say when someone says sorry for your loss so you’ll be prepared and feel polite, though keep in mind that no one is expecting you to be polite or put together right now.
All you can do is speak from your heart, depending on the person who has expressed their sympathy, and otherwise using one of these responses to sorry for your loss will do just fine.
1. Don’t Say Anything
That’s right. You don’t have to say anything in return.
When someone says sorry for your loss, you, as the grieving person, can elect to simply hear their words and not respond.
In your time of grief, there is no true social etiquette that you need to follow. It is everyone else’s job to be understanding and support you in your reactions and in your time of need.
If no words come to mind, or if it’s too painful to speak or to respond, you’re absolutely allowed to take in their message and not say anything in return.
Over time, as you start to come out of the other side of the more recent grief, you can always respond them if it’s to a phone call or text message, or you can let them know, in-person, how much their words meant to you at the time.
This is the easiest route to go if you have social anxiety, are prone to worrying about saying the “right” thing or are just lost in your grief. Stay silent. It’s okay.
2. Say Thank You and Nothing Else
You don’t have to elaborate or go any further than a simple “thank you” when someone says sorry for your loss, if you want to respond.
It is probably the most common way to respond, and people won’t expect you to expand further or to say much more than that.
You can say variations of “thank you” like “thanks” or “thank you so much” depending on how you’re feeling, but at the end of the day, you don’t have to get detailed or over-the-top in your response.
Again, it is on the person who is expressing their condolences to understand your reaction or lack of it.
They are giving the condolences not to hear you say anything back, but to let you know that they are thinking of you.
Say “thank you” and leave it at that.
3. Say Thank You and Share a Story About the Person You Lost
When you lose someone, people often don’t know if you would like to talk about them or not.
If you would like to share stories about them or talk about them (many people do), it can be a great response to tell someone thank you and then share a story about the person you lost.
Something like, “thank you so much. Grandpa Ron absolutely loved this time of year with the flowers blooming and the birds singing and I’m trying to hold onto the memory of the time he took me for a picnic as a child on a clear day and we just read books and picked flowers and had so much fun.”
Or you could say something like, “thank you. I’m trying to remember the stories about him. Have I told you about the time Simon fell out of the boat that time on the lake? He was absolutely drenched and we’re pretty sure had a fish caught in his hair.!”
People will be happy to listen to your stories about your loved one, so tell as many as you want.
4. Say Thank You and Tell the Person what They Meant to the One You Lost
When someone expresses their condolences to you, it can be nice to respond with a more personal note if they meant something to the person you lost.
For instance, if it’s a close friend who your mother knew well, you could say something like “thank you very much. She loved having you over and was always asking about you and the kids. I know she was really proud of what you’ve done with your life and how you’ve raised the boys.”
This is a response that does require a little bit more thought and to put the emphasis on the other person, but it can be nice in a way because you are reminding both them and yourself that your loved one had positive feelings for many people and that many people loved them or respected them in return. It can help you feel slightly less alone, while also helping the other person in a tiny way through their own grief.
5. Tell Them You Appreciate Them Thinking of You
Instead of just a basic “thank you”, try telling them how much you appreciate them.
It can be that you just appreciate them for thinking of you, or maybe they were there for you during the end of your loved one’s life on the hardest days.
Make it a full sentence, in addition to “thank you” to express your appreciation.
Try something like, “thank you very much. I really appreciate you thinking about me during this time” or “thank you. I so appreciate you sticking by me these past few weeks when I’ve been distracted at work and sticking up for me when you knew I was struggling. It means a lot to me.”
6. Express Something Positive about Your Beliefs in Heaven and/or Their Life Well Lived
Often the reason people are looking for the right thing to say after someone offers you condolences is because they feel it is their job to make the mood more uplifting and less depressing.
That is absolutely not the case.
You can take the conversation anywhere you would like it to go.
However, some people do find it helpful to try and return their message with something positive or filled with gratitude to help lift their own spirits (and, in turn, the other person, but again, that’s not on you).
You could say something like, “thank you very much. I truly believe he’s in heaven now, having the time of his life and drinking all of the cider he can get his hands on up there.”
Or you could say something like, “thank you. I’m so glad I got so many good years with him and that he impacted people everywhere. What a wonderful life he lived.”
Don’t force it if it’s not where your thoughts are, but know that it is an option and can be a bit of an exercise later on in your grief to help you start to recover and see the positives.
7. Say Thank You and Be Honest about Your Struggles
Someone expressing their condolences is almost always someone who would be happy to listen to your struggles.
Whether it’s a friend, coworker, or even an acquaintance, grief is something most people have gone through and have at least a little bit of understanding about what it entails and how truly awful it feels.
If you are struggling, you don’t have to force any sort of positive response.
You can say “thank you” and then tell them how you’re really feeling, or you don’t even have to say “thank you” and just launch into your thoughts.
For instance, “thank you so much. I’m really struggling with this and cry myself to sleep a lot lately. It feels like this sadness is never going to end.”
This gives the other person the opportunity to offer a shoulder to cry on or further emotional support, which is what many people need when they’ve lost a loved one.
You would also be surprised.
Oftentimes, the absolute best advice and support comes from people that you didn’t even expect. Be honest, be truthful, and be open about what you’re feeling as a response to condolences.
What to Say in Other Situations
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- what to say when someone leaves a job
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- what to say to someone getting married
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- what to say to someone after surgery
- what to say when someone says sorry for your loss