Before January, I didn't know what to say to a friend who lost a loved one. My grandmother died a few years back, but she was bed-ridden and couldn't talk anymore. I don't know for sure if she was suffering, but even if she wasn't suffering physically, what kind of life is that? Of course I'm sad that she died but she was also released into God's arms and can run and walk and sing again if she wants. My cousin died- he was young and vibrant and that hurt a lot. But he was "only my cousin" so a lot of people just didn't understand the pain and tears that came with his death. Friends just didn't mention it. I also lived in different country with people who never knew him, so it was easy for them to mumble, "sorry" and move on with their day. But when Mom died- well, the outpouring of sympathy was amazing. I didn't know she was so loved and it was good to hear.
What is not good to hear is people sympathizing or offering advice. Here's the thing- if you haven't been there, just say, "I'm sorry for your loss. You and your family is in my prayers." If you're not the praying-kind, you can substitute "thoughts" for "prayers"... which in my mind are essentially the same because if you're "thinking" of me, you're probably hoping that my pain and sadness will ease or that I'll be strong enough to deal with this loss... and who are you talking to when you hope for these things...? Hmmmm...?
Because if you haven't been there, you don't understand. And if you don't understand, your "advice" only hurts me.