What to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer
Written by Karen Selby, RN
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How to Cite Asbestos.com’s Article
Selby, K. (2023, June 19). What to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer. Asbestos.com. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from https://www.asbestos.com/support/what-to-say-when-someone-dies-cancer/
Selby, Karen. "What to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer." Asbestos.com, 19 Jun 2023, https://www.asbestos.com/support/what-to-say-when-someone-dies-cancer/.
Selby, Karen. "What to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer." Asbestos.com. Last modified June 19, 2023. https://www.asbestos.com/support/what-to-say-when-someone-dies-cancer/.
What to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer
When you lose someone to cancer, you begin a grieving process that can take months or years — and that will change you forever. During that time, you’ll rely on friends, family and others to support you. We’ve compiled a list of helpful things to say when someone close to you loses someone.
What to Say to Your Family Members
Family members have a close bond. When someone close to you loses someone, you may feel pain whether you knew the person or not. Your family members will need support to get them through their grieving process.
1. “I love you.”
Let your family members know that you love them and are there for them. Making them feel loved, supported and cared for during their grieving process can help them feel better.
2. “I know how much you loved them.”
After someone dies, it’s easy to start feeling like you didn’t do or say the right things leading up to their death. Reassure your family members the deceased felt and saw their love.
3. “My favorite memory is … ”
Sometimes, it’s helpful to pull focus away from the death and put it onto the person whom you lost. Share memories and stories about the deceased to honor their legacy, and hopefully, you can make your loved ones laugh with funny memories and silly stories.
What to Say to Your Friends
Friends are like a chosen family. During times of hardship, we can rely on our friends to be there for us and provide comfort and help.
4. “Do you want to talk about them?”
Instead of offering only condolences, allow your friend to talk about what they loved about the person they lost. This can help cheer them up and strengthen your bond.
5. “You’re important to me.”
Losing someone can make you feel sad, alone and scared. Make sure your friend knows you care for them and they’re an important part of your life — this can help them feel grounded and secure while they grieve.
6. “What can I do?”
Though your friend might need help, it can be hard to ask for it. Asking them what they need or what you can do for them can help them avoid stress or burnout while they’re grieving or planning funeral proceedings.
What to Say to Your Coworkers
Friends you make in the office can become some of your closest. Whether an office friend or acquaintance, letting them know you care is always the right thing to do.
7. “I’m sorry to hear about your loss.”
Though your company may send a group card or email, personally reaching out is always a nice extra step to take.
8. “Let me know if I can do anything.”
When you lose someone important to you, having to deal with everyday tasks such as work can be stressful. Coming back from a few days of bereavement leave to a stack of undone work can be equally stressful. If you can, let your co-worker know you’re willing to assist them with anything they need.
9. “You’re in my thoughts.”
It’s always nice to know the people around you care. Let your co-worker know that you’re there for them and thinking about them during this difficult time in their lives.
What to Say to Your Children
Cancer and cancer death can be confusing for children — especially those who are going through it for the first time. Without sugarcoating the issue, death can be an important time to teach them about life.
10. “How do you feel?”
Checking in with a grieving child can help them navigate and learn about their emotions. Asking them how they’re feeling gives them a non-judgmental space to work through any negative emotions or complicated feelings they may be experiencing.
11. “Do you have any questions?”
Children will likely have many questions throughout the death and funeral process. Give them ample room to ask any questions, big or small, and make sure to take the time to carefully answer anything they raise.
12. “I know they loved you.”
Coping with a loved one being gone is hard for anyone — but it’s especially difficult for kids, who often don’t understand the full extent of what’s happening. Remind the child their loved one may be gone, but the love they shared will always remain.
You can also encourage children to remember the good times they shared with their loved ones by using a memory box activity such as the following printable sheet.
What Not to Say When Someone Dies of Cancer
Though you might have good intentions, certain things are unhelpful to hear while grieving.
1. “They’re in a better place.”
Though you might be trying to comfort your friend or loved one, they may not be receptive to this sentiment following the death of someone close to them. They likely still believe the best place their loved one could be is beside them. Avoid talking about the afterlife if you don’t know their beliefs.
2. “Did they smoke?” or other invasive questions
Some people who get lung cancer or mesothelioma do so because of non-smoking factors such as asbestos. Asking about the health habits of the deceased crosses an etiquette line. Don’t ask a grieving person about their loved one’s habits, or it may seem like you’re blaming the deceased.
3. “At least they lived a long life.”
When you lose someone close to you, any amount of time feels too short. These sentiments can make them feel belittled or selfish for wishing their loved one was still with them. Don’t try to sugarcoat the pain and loss the person is feeling.
4. “Stay strong.”
It’s important to feel all emotions, positive and negative, during the grieving process. Encouraging someone to bottle up their sad or angry emotions and stay strong might seem like a kind gesture, but it might also be harmful. It’s better to let them know you’ll be there for them through the good and the bad.
5. “I understand how you feel.”
Though you’re just trying to relate to your loved one and let them know you’ve been where they are, it usually isn’t helpful to tell them you understand what they’re feeling. The fact is, no two deaths are the same. Instead of putting the focus on your experience, leave it on how they’re feeling and what they need.
How to Help Someone Grieving
Sometimes finding small ways to help is the best thing you can do for a person who’s grieving.
1. Bring them meals
Making sure someone is eating while they grieve over a loved one is an important and kind thing to do. You can organize a meal plan and have several people chip in to help, or you can take it upon yourself to deliver a few meals throughout the week.
You can also use a meal planner like the following one, so your loved ones will know when they don’t have to worry about making dinner.
2. Call or text to check in
In the first few days following the death, friends and family will likely inundate your loved one with texts and calls asking them how they’re doing. Following that, though, they’re still going to need emotional support. In the weeks following the death, text or call them to check in.
3. Say nothing — just listen to them
Confusing and strong emotions are hard for anyone to navigate. Make sure your loved one knows that you’re there for them and that you care. Instead of offering words of encouragement, be silent and let them speak. Listen carefully to what they’re saying and help them through their feelings.
Support is essential while grieving. You can find support in friends, family, therapists or online forums and groups with people who are going through similar experiences.
For those who lose a loved one to mesothelioma, you can also read the Mesothelioma Grief Guide for ways to cope with your loss.