Grief is a complicated and personal thing that everyone experiences differently. That’s why, if someone else is the one grieving, it can be hard to know what to say to them. During such a painful and sensitive time, no one wants to say the wrong thing and make matters worse, but this hesitation is also what can keep us from saying the right thing. So we talked to Jill Cohen, a New York City family grief counselor, for some general guidance about what to say to someone who lost a loved one or a family member.

For starters, she encourages people not to hesitate to reach out to someone who is going through grief. It’s common for people to worry that bringing up the death will be uncomfortable or will make the person who is grieving sad, but, as a client once told Cohen about this thought process, “It’s not like if you don’t bring it up, I’ll forget that my dad died.” Letting a person know you’re thinking of them can help bring their grief into the light and make the experience feel less like something they have to go through all alone. You can also think of it like this: Just as it would be appropriate to send a “Get Well Soon” card to someone who was in an accident and was physically injured, it’s also appropriate to acknowledge when someone is grieving and in emotional pain.

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