While most of us know how to conduct ourselves at a funeral, knowing what to say to a friend, coworker, or acquaintance when someone close to them dies can surprisingly be a lot trickier. It’s a situation that all of us will inevitably face many times in life, and knowing exactly how to express condolences can make all the difference to the person who is grieving.
Here are seven things you can say or do to let that person experiencing loss know that you care, and help ease their pain.
1. Simply Stating “I’m So Sorry”
It may sound too easy, but sometimes saying something as simple as “I’m sorry for your loss” lets the other person you are acknowledging them and this sad event. If you’re not particularly close with the person experiencing loss or don’t know what else to say, this simple statement has you covered.
2. Recall a Happy Memory of the Deceased
If you did know or have encounters with the person who passed away, sharing a positive, happy memory of them with the bereaved will be much appreciated. It shows the grieving person how much this individual made an impact on you, and keeps their memory alive. Don’t forget to mention how much this person will be missed by you as well.
3. Send a Card
You’ll definitely want to send a sympathy card if you have a relationship with this person, even if you learned the news via social media, a text, or email. Follow up with a card as soon as you can, and include a brief personalized message saying how sorry you are to hear the news and that you’re available to talk and offer support anytime.
4. Let Them Know You’re Thinking of Them
Let the bereaved know you’re thinking of them and their other family members during this challenging time in their life. Along with saying “I’m sorry for your loss,” letting them know they’re in your thoughts is another way of expressing sympathy when you’re tongue-tied and can’t find the right words.
5. Send Flowers
Sending the grieving person a bouquet of sympathy flowers is a lovely way of letting them know you care. They’re often especially appreciated if you live far away and cannot attend the loved one’s funeral.
Florists often feature white or pastel-colored flowers and greenery to create tasteful sympathy arrangements. Avoid sending anything that is too bright and cheery. You can also include a card message to further express your sympathies to the receiver.
6. Offer Specific Ways To Help
Your friend may be feeling overwhelmed as they prepare for the deceased person’s memorial or funeral services. Let them know you’re available to take them out for lunch or help out with chores such as watching their pet or picking up a few things at the supermarket for them.
The key to delivering this the right way is to offer specific ways you can help them out. Saying “let me know if you need anything” is too vague, and they’re unlikely to take you up on the offer. Sometimes your company is all they may want as well.
7. Lend An Ear
If you’re not able to offer help with specific tasks, but you’re close to the bereaved person, letting them know you’re available to talk is another way to show you care. Sometimes just being able to talk to another person about their feelings and emotions can be very therapeutic to someone who has lost a loved one.
Only make this offer if you are actually able to devote some time to talk with them, either over the phone or in person. You don’t have to have any answers for them; just being present and allowing them to express their feelings will help them process their own and begin to feel better.
What Not to Do or Say
It’s also easy to embarrass yourself when someone you know is experiencing loss through death. You definitely don’t want to strain a relationship because of something you said or did following the death of their loved one. Avoid making these mistakes when someone is grieving.
Don’t Trivialize the Loss
Saying something like “It was just a cat (or dog)” or “Well, you weren’t that close to your grandmother anyway” is the wrong thing to say to a grieving individual. The truth is, their pet was probably a family member to them, and any kind of loss can affect a person, even if they weren’t close to the deceased.
Avoid Bringing Religion Into Your Condolences
Unless you know for certain the person grieving has specific spiritual or religious beliefs, it’s best to avoid saying “they’re in a better place” or “they’re with God now.” Try to leave your religious beliefs out of delivering sympathy, so you don’t make the other person feel uncomfortable.
Don’t Compare Losses
Each individual experiences death differently, and the truth is you don’t know if the other person is feeling what you did when you lost someone close to you. It’s best not to compare losses because you don’t know everything they experienced leading up to it.
Not Saying Anything
The only thing worse than saying the wrong thing when someone’s loved one passes away is not saying anything at all. And unfortunately, this happens more often than you may think, particularly with so much communication taking place online these days.
So be sure to acknowledge the other person’s loss, even if you can’t think of anything more to say than “I’m sorry.” And don’t ghost on the person; continue to reach out to them to inquire how they’re holding up and to let them know you’re thinking of them.
Know How to Express Condolences the Right Way
Knowing how to express condolences doesn’t have to be awkward. Remember to put yourself into the other person’s shoes to determine how to make them feel cared for during this difficult time in their life.
Check out our latest lifestyle posts for more etiquette tips, no matter the situation.