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nayeight's avatar

What are some nice non-religious ways of saying sorry to someone who just lost a loved one?

Asked by nayeight (3337 points ) January 13th, 2010

Usually people give their condolences by saying something like “you are in my prayers” or “I’m so sorry for your loss and I’m praying for you” but as an atheist, I honestly won’t pray for anyone and I think only saying “I’m sorry for your loss” sounds so boring. While I’m sure the person doesn’t really care what you say to them as long as it sounds sincere, I was wondering what are some other ways of saying/showing that you are truly sorry when someone you know has lost a loved one?

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32 Answers

Ivan's avatar

“You’re in my thoughts” is the typical response.

chyna's avatar

You are in my thoughts.
Ivan beat me to it. :)

Zen_Again's avatar

May you know of no further sorrow.

filmfann's avatar

“If I’m right about there being no God, you don’t need to worry about them burning in Hell.”

laureth's avatar

I never know what to say in these situations. I usually use some variation of “my heart goes out to you and your family in this difficult time. May you find peace.”

gailcalled's avatar

Having been in the sad position of receiver, I can tell you that the particular words do not matter at all. It is the sense that, for however brief an interval, someone has tried to be kind and empathetic.

lilikoi's avatar

I’ve told close friends “I’m not the type of person that prays, but if I was, I’d pray for you.”

fancyfeast's avatar

“My heart goes out to you” and “My thoughts are with you” are 2 good choices. I say: Tell them how you really feel as to how much you care about what they are going through, but short and brief.

njnyjobs's avatar

“Deepest sympathy and heartfelt condolence! I share with your sorrow and grief during this moment of bereavement.

He/She was a good friend and well liked. He/She will truly be missed.”

gailcalled's avatar

@njnyjobs: I would suggest saying, “I will miss him/her,” rather than “He/She will truly be missed.”

AstroChuck's avatar

“I’m very saddened to hear of your loss.”

“You have my deepest sympathy on the loss of your (whoever).”

“I know how hard it is to lose someone you love so deeply”

“My thoughts and best wishes are with you and your family.”

“Please know how very sorry I am and that I am here for you.”

janbb's avatar

“I’m not a person who prays, but my thoughts are with you” is something I will usually say to someone who has illness in the family. “I’m so sorry for your loss” is what I will usually say to someone to express condolences.

Zen_Again's avatar

I also like @gailcalled‘s

njnyjobs's avatar

I also avoid asking about how the person died. Instead I share anecdotes and good memories I have knowledge of the deceased to the ones left behind. This way, you draw away from the pain of the loss and focus on the good things the deceased person left behind as a legacy.

nayeight's avatar

Yeah, it’s always so sad and I feel so awkward trying to come up with something to say and then my mind goes blank. I guess I just don’t have a way with those types of words…

njnyjobs's avatar

@gailcalled I guess my point is that not only I will miss the deceased, but other people as well.

Additionally, depending on the degree of closeness of the family to myself, I offer myself to be of any help to them, if they do so request.

gailcalled's avatar

@astrochuck: Again from experience, I found it better to hear, “How can I help?” rather than “I am here for you.” It was particularly useful several weeks later after the crowds and the frenzy had died down and I was feeling lonely.

@njnyjobs: Your use of the passive voice left “you” out of the sentence. That is what I meant. And even in the way you said it, it did not include any other people, in spite of your good intentions.

Darwin's avatar

If the deceased is someone I knew well, I try to incorporate something about the person when I talk to the family. For example: “I am so sorry for your loss. Do you remember the way she used to really enjoy singing? I will really miss hearing her voice.”

Otherwise, a simple “I am so sorry.”

nayeight's avatar

Thanks guys, this really helped. I’m such a weirdo about stuff like this. :-/

jlm11f's avatar

Using a minor alteration on the whole “thoughts” sentence, I usually say “I’m sending positive thoughts your way.” Alternatively, “I’ll be thinking of you and your family in the next few days”.

Also, if I know the person well, I’ll definitely add a “Is there anything I can do?”

sjmc1989's avatar

I always say my thoughts are with you and their family. Very typical, but I always say in very sincerely and give them a really good hug. Hugs always are nice!

AstroChuck's avatar

@gailcalled- I agree. “How can I help?” is better. I was just throwing a few out there thinking maybe one or two might stick.
Look, give me some credit for taking the question seriously and not giving a smart-ass response for once.

knitfroggy's avatar

I’m a non-believer and I have trouble with what to say also. I usually say something along the lines of “Sorry for your loss, I’ll keep you and your family in my thoughts.” I mean, what else can you say? Sometimes, I wish you could just say nothing at all, because, nothing you can say is going to make someone feel better when their mom just passed away.

Darwin's avatar

@knitfroggy – Sometimes you can say nothing at all but simply do something instead. The mom of one of my daughter’s team mates died very suddenly before Christmas. All the other team parents organized a buffet for after the funeral, so the new widower didn’t have to worry about feeding out-of-town relatives.

Even simpler, sometimes a hug is the best thing you can offer. It can mean more than any words could ever express.

Yetanotheruser's avatar

“If there’s anything I can do for you in this time of sorrow…”

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I am truly sorry for your loss.
I care about you and you can count on me to be available to help you with anything.
I will keep in touch.

laureth's avatar

If we’re dipping into the “what can I do for you?” or “how can I help?” ideas, it may help to offer suggestions as to what you could do that they could take you up on, as long as you really mean them. For example, if someone asked me “what can I do?” I would probably say something like, “Oh, nothing, but thanks for thinking of me,” because I wouldn’t want to be any bother and usually those words are offers designed to make the person offering feel better, not the one grieving.

On the other hand, “How about if I cook some of that eggplant parmesan you like so much, and bring it over next Tuesday?” shows that you mean business. Or, “You must feel so lonely without [loved one] there. Would you like to get out of the house? I have the whole day free next Saturday, if you would like to walk in the park with me. Sometimes fresh air is just the thing.”

Darwin's avatar

And then there is this situation I walked into yesterday. I was at the hospital waiting for my husband to come through surgery when a hospital employee came up to tell me how things were going. I recognized her as someone I had gotten to know during intro to dialysis classes and by chatting with her while we both waited for our husbands to finish dialysis. Due to various reasons we didn’t see each other for a while, so I asked her how her husband was doing.

There was a long silence and then she said he passed away two months ago. Oops! What do you say?

What I said was “I am so sorry. He always had such a nice twinkle in his eye. I will really miss that.” That gave her permission to tell me about him, about missing him, and about his last few days. She was lonely and wanted to talk. My words let her do that.

ChaosCross's avatar

Ouch, that can be a hard one if they don’t believe in an afterlife. The best you can really do is tell them that you will miss them and comfort them any way they need.

Kayak8's avatar

I typically say something like, “I know a lot of people have probably been offering to do whatever they can to help these days, but I am going to give you a call in a couple weeks and see if we can do lunch/I can help with the laundry/watch the kids, etc. after some of the commotion dies down a bit. I would love to have a chance to talk about my best memories of [deceased’s name] as he/she was important to me.”

This does several things: 1) it is practical and calm; 2) it acknowledges that I know the attention will dry up and I am not afraid to come around when the numbness wears off and the real grieving starts and the loneliness is haunting; 3) it says that I am comfortable discussing the deceased and won’t avoid the subject as many will and it is often the mourner’s only topic for a while; 4) it reaffirms that the deceased meant something to me as well. No faith tradition with which I am aware is conflicted by the above offer of support.

hotgirl67's avatar

Is there anything I can do for you?

Barbs20's avatar

Let me offer my condolances.

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