My brother Brett died at the age of 36, two weeks before my final exams for my master’s degree. It was a Saturday night, and I had spent the day studying and was just getting ready for bed when I received the phone call from my dad. He had drowned at the beach while celebrating his birthday in my home country of Trinidad. I was miles away in England.
I flew home for the funeral but could only stay for a few days before I had to fly back to London for my exams. While away from my family, the kind words and messages from my friends and husband gave me the strength I needed to complete my studies during such a horrible time.
If you’re feeling at a loss for words, here are five helpful phrases that you can say to your grieving friend.
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
I was touched by all the condolence messages I received. They made me realize that there were people who cared for me, and talking to them about my brother was very healing.
One of my friends sent me a message saying, “I’m here if you ever want to chat.” She understood what I was going through, having experienced loss herself.
I was not ready to talk until a few months after, when the shock of Brett’s sudden death had subsided, but when we eventually did speak, it was a relief to chat with someone who had gone through a similar experience.
“When is the wake and funeral?”
My brother’s funeral was a very peaceful experience and gave me closure. I was so grateful for the many people who showed up for the services in person. I was happy to see all his friends who came, hear their stories, and know that he was loved while he lived.
My family and I were grateful for the support. For everyone who comforted us while we cried, who prayed for his soul when we couldn’t find the words, and who held our hands through the most difficult period of our lives.
“It’s okay not to feel happy right now.”
Often, we try to cheer people up before they are ready. In the immediate aftermath of my brother’s death, when people told me to focus on the happy memories, or that he was in a better place, I felt as though they were dismissing my feelings.
My husband always told me that it was normal to feel sad, and I was relieved to not have the pressure of appearing as though I was fine.
“There’s no right or wrong way to feel.”
I was out of the country for a few years before my brother died, and although we had always been close, I felt disappointed and remorseful for missing part of his life. I wish I had someone then to tell me it was okay to feel guilty rather than the “don’t be ridiculous” I was told instead.
Emotions are not right or wrong. If someone confesses that they are feeling sad, or angry, let them express themselves without judgement.
“I haven’t forgotten you.”
Call your friend after the funeral when things have quieted down, and let them know you are still there if they need you. They may not want to talk about their deceased loved one, but by calling or messaging, you are showing that you care.
I have a friend who messaged me every day for months after my brother’s passing. She always started the message by saying, “I understand if you don’t respond…” We didn’t always talk about his death or how I was coping, but just knowing that she cared enough to send a message was a great comfort.
What I have learned is that grief never completely goes away. Four years later, I still feel the hollowness in my heart and the tears in my eyes when I think of him. Accepting this sadness has been a journey, and the kind words from others have helped me along the way.
Originally published on August 25, 2021.