When You Don’t Know What to Say at a Visitation

We’ve talked to countless people in Akron, Cleveland, and Bedford Heights over the years who have a story like this one:

My elderly neighbor died last week, and I read in her online obituary that there’s a visitation, funeral, and reception this weekend. I cared about my neighbor and want to pay my respects, but I have never met her family and have no idea what to say to them. I don’t want it to be awkward. Maybe it’s better that I just stay home.

Here are a few words of advice from our Calhoun Funeral Home & Cremation Service staff: If at all possible, go to the funeral.

Psychologists and grief counselors agree that a ceremony can be a healing experience, helping survivors move through their grief. A funeral gives loved ones a sense of closure and finality, and it serves as an opportunity to support one another through sharing stories and memories. There is no substitute for seeing friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers gathered together – in person or online if a service is live-streamed.

When attending a visitation, here are examples of what you can say to the family:

  • My condolences.
  • I’m really sorry you’re going through this.
  • Your mom was a wonderful woman.
  • You loved him/her well.
  • I’m thinking of your family during this difficult time.

It’s also an appropriate time to share a story you have about their loved one. Some of the most powerful moments we’ve witnessed at a visitation or reception are when someone tells a story the close family had forgotten about or never heard. During a time of grief, a special moment like this can be tremendously healing.

That said, it is important to remember that appearing too upbeat or offering “pat” platitudes may not be helpful to those who lost someone special to them. Here are a few examples of comments to avoid: “I know exactly how you feel.” “God never gives us more than we can handle. God must have needed another angel in heaven. This is God’s plan.” “Just try to be strong.” Or anything starting with the words “at least,” such as, “At least you have your other children with you. At least his suffering didn’t last long.”

Instead, consider saying this: 

  • I wish I had the right words to say, but please know I’m here to listen.
  • You must really miss him.
  • We all need support in times like this. I’m here for you.
  • I know how special she was to you.
  • We will never forget her.

If you or a loved one needs help with grief or are not sure how best to help a grieving loved one, please reach out to us. We can connect you with aftercare resources in Northeast Ohio, or direct you to our online interactive grief support. It’s common for people to be caught off guard by the complexity of their grief, and we want our friends and neighbors to know we’re here for them during all of the ups and downs in life.

We want our Akron-area neighbors to know the Calhoun team is here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We have many grief resources available, along with interactive grief support. Whether you’re having a difficult time following a death, or want to learn how to save your family stress by preplanning your own arrangements, contact us anytime.

When someone dies, their loved ones often feel numb during the days and weeks that follow. Here at Calhoun Funeral Home & Cremation Service, our professional staff helps families in Akron, Cleveland, and Bedford Heights, who are in a state of shock and grief, plan meaningful funerals and cremations. Our many decades of service have taught us how to stand alongside those who have experienced a loss.