Mourn With Those Who Mourn: How to Support a Grieving Friend

The main message is simply that you have not forgotten them or the person they love.

Four simple phrases can mean so much.
Four simple phrases can mean so much. (photo: Bridget McCartney Nohara )

We know well that earth is the vale of tears. This side of heaven, we will most certainly encounter loss, as will the people around us. While this is no secret, when the death of a loved one comes to our own lives, it can leave us frozen in our tracks and unsure of how to proceed. In particular, it can be difficult to know what to say to a friend or family member who is suffering from the loss of a loved one. 

I’ve experienced firsthand the fear of saying the wrong thing, the awkwardness and potential self-doubt about my words, and the concern of how to be present in their darkness. 

It wasn’t until my own encounter with traumatic loss that I realized the power of presence in these moments and how deeply necessary it is to feel human support. On the flip side, I experienced the ache of when friends or family withheld support because of their own discomfort. 

It was also in my darkest hour that I realized, contrary to what one might think, how uncomplicated comforting words could be. As such, I’ve put together a list of four simple phrases that people said to my husband and I that meant the most, in hopes that it will help you as you navigate the difficult space of loving someone through grief.

Whether sent by a text, written in a card or spoken in person, each of these phrases felt deeply empathetic and granted us moments of respite in our heartbreak.


“I don’t know what to say, but I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Maybe this is common sense to some, but it is almost never helpful when someone tells you, “I know just how you feel.” Grief is profoundly nuanced, and every person will experience it differently. As such, it’s appreciated when someone expresses that they aren’t trying to tell their own story or compare their scars to yours. Rather, letting them know you see them, you don’t have the words, and you love them allows for free reception of the comment without stirring up frustration or igniting defense mechanisms.


“I am praying for you.”

In moments of pain and sorrow, our faith is single-handedly our greatest weapon. Even if a person is not of faith, or if their faith has been shaken, offering your own can be a bastion of hope.

Prayer is powerful, and whether or not the person in question agrees, we know it to be true. Offering prayers for the faithful departed and those who grieve them is transformative and deeply necessary.


“I haven’t forgotten.”

If you’ve lost someone, you likely know the agonizing fear that the person might somehow be forgotten. If your friend or family member is grieving, don’t be afraid to bring up the lost person in conversation, and mention that you have not forgotten them, nor have you forgotten that your friend might be grieving. 

Grief is not linear. While your life moves on, the person who is grieving might not feel that they have the same luxury. Holidays, anniversaries and birthdays will be heavy days for the rest of their life, and it can be isolating, and even devastating, to think that no one else seems to care or remember. 

If you’re able, consider marking down dates in your calendar, such as the anniversary of death or the deceased’s birthday. That way, you can send a card (including a Mass card) or a text on those dates in the days and years to come to remind your friend that you remember, too, even if you aren’t grieving the same way. The main message is simply that you have not forgotten them or the person they love.


“I am uniting my suffering to yours.”

One of the most stunning realities of our faith is redemptive suffering. In some seasons of life, it may, in fact, be one’s only comfort.

There may be days, months or years of life that are heavily burdened with sorrow and the cross seems particularly weighty. If you have a friend who seems to be in that place, it can be extremely difficult to know how to be present, especially if you do not feel like you are in a similar season.

When I’ve been in seasons of suffering, I’ve greatly appreciated the notion that my own suffering is not for naught, and I’ve been even more grateful to know that friends and family are accompanying me in sorrow. 

Grief is many things, but one thing it can be consistently is isolating. Telling a friend that you’re uniting your suffering to theirs is a reminder that we are all on the journey together. Perhaps your suffering is not the same (of course, it’s not), but you are still suffering, and you’re carrying your own cross next to theirs. 

While we might be afraid to say the wrong thing to a grieving friend, from my experience, it is far more concerning to say absolutely nothing. Depending on the situation, there may be more or less appropriate ways of expressing your condolences, but when in doubt, make sure to make contact. This is how we, the Church Militant, come together as we forge onward — to heaven.