Good article in WSJ today! How can you comfort someone grieving the death of a loved one? What can you say that might adequately offer solace? "I'm sorry" doesn't seem to cut it. I felt this acutely after my cousin, Arthur, died unexpectedly in his sleep a few weeks ago. Although I was deeply sad myself, I wanted to offer support to his mother, father, wife and sister. But what words or gestures might help them, not just before and during the funeral but also day-in and day-out as they continue to mourn? How can I avoid making them feel worse? Should I call a lot, visit, write emails? Talk about my fond memories of my cousin? Share my own grief? Or should I leave them alone and give them space? Janice Nadeau A Modern Condolences Guide People often are at a loss for how to express sympathy and offer comfort to someone who is grieving the death of a loved one, both immediately after the death and weeks or months later. Here are some tips. REACH OUT. But don't let email or texting take the place of an in-person visit or phone call. Remember, much of what we find comfortingâ€”tone of voice, eye contact, touchâ€”is nonverbal. LISTEN. Follow the mourner's lead. Let the person talk about what is important to him. SHARE A MEMORY. For someone who is grieving, hearing about things the loved one said and did, and what they meant to others, is comforting. OFFER PRACTICAL HELP. Can you assist with funeral planning? Babysitting? Mowing the lawn? Most people don't ask for help because they don't want to seem needy. ASK BEFORE BRINGING A LOT OF FOOD. What do the mourners want or need? It doesn't have to be fancyâ€”perhaps milk, eggs or orange juice? GIVE SOMETHING THAT WILL LIVE ON. Consider skipping the flowers. Perhaps share a memento, or make a charitable donation to honor the deceased. "There is a skill to comforting, but we are not taught it," says Val Walker, a grief educator and author of "The Art of Comforting." "We are such a fix-it society, we think we are supposed to help the person feel better, instead of just listening to what someone is saying." Alternatively, we often avoid people who are vulnerable or in need because we feel uncomfortable with their emotions, she says. Adrienne Crowther learned this the hard way in 2009, when her husband died after a long illness. Friends offered constant support, and some even helped her to plan the funeral. But a few disappeared. Several months later, Ms. Crowther ran into an old friend in the grocery store and asked if she'd heard about her loss. The friend replied that she hadâ€”and immediately changed the subject. "It was such a slap in the face," says Ms. Crowther, 54, who sees a lot of grieving people in her line of work. She owns a gallery that sells memorial art and cremation urns in Asheville, N.C. "People are so uncomfortable with death that they often don't know what to say," she says. "But I'd rather have a trite statement than ignoring the issue altogether." Perhaps the most difficult conversation of all involves breaking the news of a loved one's death. Grief counselors say to deliver the news simply and quicklyâ€”in one or two sentences, and in as private a setting as possible. Wait while the person absorbs the shock, then offer your support. But how? I asked my grieving family members. My Uncle Sidney, Arthur's father, said he was comforted in the days and weeks after the funeral when people sent emails or called. "Unhelpful," he says, "is being told, 'You're not supposed to bury your child' or 'He was so young!' " My cousin Sarah, Arthur's sister, said she appreciated getting multiple phone calls, emails or texts from friends who didn't pressure her to respond. Instead, they just said they would call again. "There is something comforting about not needing to talk or respond, but knowing that the support will be offered again the next day," she says. When Christine White's husband died suddenly two years ago, neighbors and friends tried to express their condolences. They called to ask what happened and how she was doing. They showed up with food: taco casseroles, barbecued beef, fried chicken. And they offered help, in some cases telling her to let them know what she needed. Ms. White found all of it annoying. The inquiries about her husband's death made her rehash her pain, she says, while questions about how she was faring made her feel she had to lie and say she was fine. She had no appetite and gave most of the incoming food to her dogs. "They were such cookie-cutter responses," says Ms. White, 36, who owns a spa-products company in Lewisville, Texas. "They weren't helpful." What did give her comfort, she says, was a spiritual poem that she received from a woman who had also lost her husband. And she found solace in a box of glass "worry angels" from a cousin and a link to the song "Held," by Natalie Grant, sent by a friend. The Juggle How to Comfort the Mourning Tiffany Andersen, 28, a Gilbert, Ariz., dentist who has lost both of her parents, says she greatly appreciated it when people recalled how her father made the best pineapple chicken, or that her mother "had a way of helping others." "It was supportive to hear that they both weren't lost from this world completely, just physically," Ms. Andersen says. When Paula Altschuler's mother died unexpectedly six months ago, Ms. Altschuler was traveling with her husband in Malaysia. While on a layover in Seoul during the three-day trip back to Florida for the memorial service, Ms. Altschuler logged onto Facebook and found hundreds of messages of condolence posted on her wall and sent to her personally. Some people said they were sorry for her loss, or that they were thinking of her. Others shared memories, sometimes funny, of her mother. "It felt very supportive," says Ms. Altschuler, 30, a graduate student in Park City, Utah. Yet Ms. Altschuler found some of the expressions of sympathy upsettingâ€”namely, the religious ones. She felt uncomfortable when people told her that her mother's spirit would comfort her or that her mother was watching over her. "That's an opinion," Ms. Altschuler says. "And to have someone tell me that goes against what I believe." View Full Image Janice Nadeau Condolences may be well-meaning but hit the wrong notes. Journal Community Discuss: What words of consolation have you found when reaching out to a grieving loved one? What words have comforted you? So what is the right way to comfort someone who is grieving? Here are some suggestions, culled from grief experts and people who have lost a loved one: Say something simple. "I am sorry to hear the news" will suffice at first. Then, on an ongoing basis, "I am thinking of you." Admit that you don't know what to say, says Ms. Walker, the grief educator. Don't ask, "What happened?" "You are making the grieving person relive pain," says Ms. White, who lost her husband. Don't launch into a detailed account of your loss of a loved one. "Give them just enough to let them know that you can relate," says Ms. Walker. "What you are trying to say is, 'I lost my mother, too. What is it like for you?' " Avoid clichÃ©s. That includes, "Good things come from bad," "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "He's at peace now." Ms. Walker says they're "preachy, presumptuous and impersonal." Don't claim to know how the grieving person feels. You don't. Don't suggest that the mourner "move on." Stay away from words such as "ought," "should" and "need." You may want to say, "I can only imagine what you are going through." Follow the mourning family's lead regarding Facebook. Have they posted about the death? If they haven't, don't expose their grief. Should you decide to use Facebook, simply express condolences or share a memory. Do not discuss circumstances of the death. Keep your religious beliefs to yourself unless you are sure that the person you are trying to comfort shares them. (It is OK simply to say that you will keep the family in your prayers.) If you are reaching out or offering help, don't expect a response. Explain that you are checking in but understand that the mourner may not be able to get back to you and so you will call again. Promise to be there in the coming weeks and months. And keep your promise. â€”Email Elizabeth Bernstein at email@example.com or follow her column at www.Facebook.com/EBernsteinWSJ.