What To Say When Someone Dies Of Cancer

Losing someone to cancer is an incredibly difficult thing to face. It can often be a long and drawn-out battle, but when the individual passes away, it is no less shocking or hurtful. Knowing that it is coming doesn't soften the blow and it can even amplify the feelings of anger and resentment felt in the grieving process.

For those of us left behind, it can be difficult to know what to say. We want to help and support our loved ones through their grieving process, but we may not always know the right things to say. Here are some tips on what to say (and what not to say) when someone you love dies of cancer.

Avoid talking about winning and losing

People like to talk about cancer in terms of a battle which can either be won or lost. But this is helpful to those left behind. It places the blame on the individual with cancer for not fighting hard enough when they get sick. 

Cancer is difficult to treat and incredibly unpredictable, and it is rarely up to the individual to decide how hard they would like to fight. So, when talking to someone who has lost a loved one to cancer, don't talk about winning or losing the battle, as this can be incredibly hurtful.

Don't say "it was for the best"

This is a common phrase that people like to say when someone dies, regardless of the circumstances. But when someone dies of cancer, this phrase can be incredibly hurtful. It suggests that the individual who passed away was suffering and that their death was a relief. 

This is not always the case, particularly if they died very young. They may have left behind family and friends that won't be the same without them, so there is no sense in saying it was for the best.

Don't say "at least they're not in pain anymore"

This is another phrase that is often said when someone dies, but it can be particularly hurtful when someone dies of cancer. The individual who has passed away might have been in a great deal of pain before they died and hearing this won't make it any easier for those who are left behind.

 It can also leave those left behind with a feeling of guilt, because they may be wishing their loved one was still with them, even if it means that they would still be in pain.

Do say "I'm sorry for your loss"

This is a simple phrase, but it can be very effective. It shows that you are empathising with the person who is grieving and that you understand how difficult it must be for them. It doesn't leave anyone with any feelings of guilt, anger or resentment. It simply states your shared sorrow for losing someone.

Expressing sympathy doesn't have to be done on a card and you don't have to wait until the funeral. It's perfectly acceptable to send a text, email or DM to let someone know you are thinking about them. Grief can be an incredibly lonely place, so it is helpful to know that there are people on the other side of the phone when you need them.

Do say "if there's anything I can do to help, please let me know"

This is a great way to show that you are there for the person who is grieving. It shows that you are willing to help in any way possible and that you are not going to disappear as soon as the funeral is over. This can be a massive help, as those who are grieving often need help with day-to-day tasks.

If you can, be specific about the help you can offer. This makes the task of asking for help much easier, as they will know what they can ask you for. You might offer to cook a few meals, watch their children, walk their dog or help with travel arrangements if they don't drive.

Do say "I'll be thinking of you"

This is a simple phrase, but it can be very reassuring for someone who is grieving. It shows that you care and that you will be there for them, even if you can't be there in person. This can be a great comfort, especially if the person who has died was a close friend or family member. Grieving is incredibly lonely, so it's helpful to know who is around and in your corner.

People commonly avoid contacting someone while they are grieving because they don't want to bother them, or they don't think they know them well enough. Put these thoughts to one side and think about how lonely and vulnerable the person is feeling. They will be reassured by your words, not perturbed, so don't be afraid to reach out.

Do say "Let me know if you need to talk."

This is another great way to show that you are there for the person who is grieving. It shows that you are willing to listen and offer support, without judging or trying to fix the situation. This can be a massive help, as those who are grieving often need someone to talk to. They can quickly feel that they are exhausting those around them, so having new people to talk to can be a huge source of relief.

You don't have to be a professional grief counsellor to be able to offer meaningful support. In fact, it's better if you don't try to offer practical advice. It's often enough just to sit with the person as they process their feelings. Grief and losing someone to cancer can bring up some incredibly complex feelings. The person who is grieving will often just need to talk through these feelings, without feeling the need to find a solution.

These are just some of the helpful things you can say to support someone with cancer, but there are many more. Just be yourself, be honest and be there for the person who is grieving. They will appreciate it more than you could ever know.