How to speak with someone facing loss

Sunday April 2nd 2023


Graeme Whitlie, Funeral Director and Pauline Dickson, Branch Administrator William Purves, Dalkeith.

This article has been written by Graeme Whitlie, Funeral Director, William Purves, Dalkeith.

Death, grief, bereavement are still taboo subjects for many of us in the UK. When it affects someone we know, it’s true that many of us will have a moment of doubt as to what to say. That doubt is highly likely to lead to us shying away, resorting to cliched statements intended to be helpful or glossing over their loss entirely in a bid to be “normal”.

Midlothian based William Purves Funeral Directors has a lot of experience in this field – not unsurprisingly. There are many ways we can be supportive without being awkward.

Here’s our top three tips for getting around any emotional awkwardness:

1. Don’t ignore them, or ignore the loss.

A client of ours who lost his wife of 54 years sums it up: “I’ve been bereaved. I’ve not contracted a contagious disease.” If we avoid people who are already in pain, we simply isolate them further.

2. Speak about their loss.

Yes, we suggest you actually raise the subject. The absence of their loved one is real every minute so you’re not opening a new wound. Instead, you’re giving them a chance to speak about it which is the most healthy thing to do. And it may provoke emotions – again this is a common reason to avoid chatting – but it will pass. Listening and allowing them to process this new reality is one of the kindest things you can do.

3. Repeat 2.

Simple really. It’s often the case that bereaved people start to lose their networks of friends, colleagues, or acquaintances. At a funeral we did last year, the deceased instructed all those at her funeral to “Keep me in your thoughts and [her husband] David in your diaries.” As time moves on, it’s important to maintain links and help those facing a loss.

On a more general note:

– Don’t assume a loss is devastating; it may have been a welcome relief after a long illness

– Don’t say you know how they feel as their loss is personal to them

– It’s easy to compare but this is about them, not you

– Make practical promises that you can deliver

We hope this advice is helpful.

And if you’re the one facing a loss, we can offer practical help. Our branches in Dalkeith (Eskbank Road) and Penicuik (John Street) offer a range of free printed guides and books. Or go to our website to download a guide today at


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