I've done grief counseling for years and when people ask me "What should I say?" to a friend or loved one grieving I assure them there's nothing you can say, and saying nothing is often WAY better than the lame attempts at comfort. Instead just be with them—don't talk much, just listen. Let them express what they need to say without "correcting" how they should feel or how they should look at the situation.
When you do talk keep it to "I'm so sorry. I love you so much. I'm here for you" and cry with them. If anything I have found that it's more comforting to the grieving person I'm working with to actually validate that even as a counselor and professional word-smith who is "supposed" to have the answers and "supposed" to know what to say that I have no good answers. There's simply nothing that can be said that will make anything feel better when someone is grieving deeply. Grief and suffering, quite frankly, just suck. It just hurts to hurt. Sadness blows. People need to know that it's okay to be in grief and to not have the answers and it's more helpful to just "mourn with those that mourn."
I mostly teach them the grief process (The 5 Stages of Grief) to help normalize the experiences they are having and will have, to give them a bit of a "road map" of what's to come. I encourage them to take the time it takes to grieve vs. try to rush getting to acceptance and "getting over it" and "moving on" which are all ways to actually prolong the grief process. The best way through and out of grief is to actually simply just go through it—to experience it fully as it is. Thus, cliched and trite attempts to comfort the grieving one with "this will only make you stronger" or "it's God's will" or "it could be worse" or "just have faith" or whatever may be true but the real truth is they usually just make grieving person feel more alone. So I never say those things.
Why then do people give the trite, cliched responses? It's all about their own discomfort in the face of illness, death, loss, pain and not knowing what to do about it. They just don't know what else to do, and not knowing what to do makes people uncomfortable and anxious. By saying those things it makes them feel like they've offered or done something. The truth is sometimes doing and saying less is more.
So, instead of giving another well-intentioned, but über-annoying trite expression, I just sit with my clients in their pain and feel with them and encourage them to just be and that it's okay. In my office they don't have to "perform" or "put on a brave face" or "put on a good show." I encourage them to cry. I encourage them to be mad. I encourage them to "break down" and "lose it" and that it's all okay and sucky and normal and that to grieve is to be human. I encourage people to take the same approach with whomever they love and care for: just be there for them, let them know it's okay to hurt, don't over-talk, don't try to "fix" how they feel, listen a lot, and yes, take them a pot roast.
—How do YOU respond to grief, or how have people helped YOU through YOUR grief/loss experiences? Please share your ideas below—