12 Insightful Passages That Resonate Deeper Than the Usual “In Sympathy” Tropes

Sometimes even the best-intentioned words of condolence can seem meaningless and empty to a bereaved friend or relative devastated after the death of a loved one. The simple phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” is a sure bet, but if you wish to connect more profoundly, tap into the prose and poetry of these insightful writers and allow them help you speak volumes in difficult times of grief.

Let them know you understand how immutable the pain of loss can feel.

“Grief is the price we pay for love.”
—Colin Murray Parkes (famously quoted by Queen Elizabeth II), “Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life”

“Grief is a thing, and you have to be okay with its presence. If you try to ignore it, it will be like a wolf at your door.”
—Stephen Colbert

“Grief makes one hour ten.”
—William Shakespeare, “Richard II”

Acknowledge it’s not unusual if the sorrow seems—at present—unendurable.

“Death’s greatest power is not that it can make people die, but that it can make people want to stop living.”
—Fredrik Backman, “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry”

“I wonder if it hurts to live / And if They have to try / And whether could They choose between / It would not be to die”
—Emily Dickinson, “I Measure Every Grief I Meet”

Avoid platitudes such as “Time heals all wounds.” Give your friend or loved one permission to mourn.

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
—C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

“I could not count the times during the average day when something would come up that I needed to tell him. This impulse did not end with his death. What ended was the possibility of response.”
―Joan Didion, “The Year of Magical Thinking”

“Heart weeps.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again: You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then. But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart. Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.”
—Lydia Davis, “Varieties of Disturbance”

Try simply being there, even in spirit—it’s often the most compassionate act of all.

The friend … who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.
—Henri Nouwen, “Out of Solitude”

“There’s no language for it. Sorry doesn’t do it. I think you should just hug people and mop their floor or something.”
—Toni Morrison

“While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates.”
—Samuel Johnson

“Instead of telling her that where there was life there was hope, or to let a smile be her umbrella, or that it was always darkest just before the dawn, or anything else that had just lately fallen out of the dog’s ass, she simply held her. Because sometimes only holding was best.”
—Stephen King, “Lisey’s Story”

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