What to Say to Survivors After a Tragic Death

Mother and baby at a funeral
Sadness can be overwhelming when someone dies unexpectedly. Rich Legg/Vetta/Getty Images

If you've ever experienced a tragic death of someone you cared about, you know how difficult it can be to make sense of what happened. In fact, it rarely makes any sense at all. Whether the person was killed in a car accident or other terrible manner, it's important to know what to say when trying to comfort his or her family members.

Emotions

After a loved one's death, survivors generally feel an emptiness and pain that can't be described or understood by anyone who has never experienced it.

Words never remove the ache after the tragic loss of a family member or dear friend, but the right ones can offer a cushion of comfort. What you don't want to do is make matters worse by saying the wrong thing.

Losing a loved one is painful under any circumstances. Add a tragic death to the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult for everyone – from the immediate survivors to extended family, friends, and coworkers.

What Not to Say

You should never try to make light of a tragic death. Doing so makes you appear heartless and cruel. If you go to the funeral, express your sympathy and then take a step back unless the survivors want to talk to you. It's always good to let them take the lead.

Here are some things you should never say to anyone who is mourning someone they lost in a tragic manner:

  • She is in a better place now.
  • He was such a daredevil I'm not surprised he's gone.
  • Someone should have paid closer attention because all the signs of trouble were there.

    Accidental Death

    Whether the person died from injuries sustained in a car accident or he fell off a roof, an accidental death catches most people by surprise. After the initial impact of the news, the survivors are in such a state of shock they often feel as though they're only going through the motions of living.

    Remember that nothing you say will make the pain go away, but the survivors appreciate your concern and will remember how you tried to comfort them. Never try to make sense of the accident or get philosophical about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Be sympathetic without trying to make sense of the accident.

    Here are some comforting words you can say:

    • This was such a terrible tragedy. Words can't express how sorry I am that this happened.
    • I am so sorry this happened. It makes no sense. Please feel free to call if you need to talk.
    • I was shocked to hear about this tragic news. I'll keep you and your family in my prayers.

    Murder

    If the deceased was murdered, you can be pretty confident that nerves are even more frayed than usual. Emotions will run high, depending on the circumstances. Let the survivors know that your heart goes out to them, but please resist the urge to ask questions. If the family members want to talk about it, let them take the lead and just listen.

    When expressing your condolences, remember that this is not the time to be creative. Don't discuss what might have provoked the murder, and avoid mentioning the murderer.

    Here are some words of comfort for the murder victim's family:

    • There are no words that anyone can say to express how horrible and senseless this was. My prayers are with you and your family.
    • He was such a kind person. This tragedy is heartbreaking to all of us. Know that I'll be praying for you.
    • What a terrible tragedy. She was such a kind, loving person, and we'll all miss her.

    Suicide

    One of the most difficult things that a family can possibly deal with is the suicide of a loved one. Some people will feel guilt, while others will be angry about it. You need to tread very lightly, knowing that emotions will be raw. Again, don't get too creative or try to put a positive spin on this tragedy. This is also not the time to share a similar story about someone else taking her own life.

    Some things you can say to the family:

    • Myra was such a fascinating woman. I loved hearing about her travels. We'll all miss her so much.
    • I'm so sorry for this sad time. If you feel like talking, please don't hesitate to call.
    • His confusion and pain must have been much worse than we could imagine. I'm so sorry you're having to go through this.