When someone you know loses a loved one in death, you naturally want to comfort the remaining family and friends. You assure them you are available to help in whatever way they need your help. The challenge is that you may not know what to say or do to a grieving person. The last thing you want to do is to add to that one’s pain. Therefore, here is a list of some of the most common dos and don’ts of offering condolences. I hope you will have a clearer picture of how best to reach out and touch their heart.
1. Acknowledge The Death
One reason that death is an uncomfortable topic is that many people are at a loss about what to say or do when offering condolences. However, it might be tempting to say or do nothing but do not pretend that you did not know that a colleague or friend lost a loved one in death. Ignoring the issue is one of the worst things you can do. Now more than ever, grieving persons need all the love and support they can get in their time of need.
Therefore, as uncomfortable as it may be, look for some way to let the grieving person know you share in their sorrow. Assure them you are thinking of them during this time of substantial loss to them. You could either send a sympathy card or a thoughtful sympathy flower arrangement, visit them in person, or call.
2. Don’t Use Electronic Communication
Electronic communication, such as texting, tweeting, or the email, may be too informal when offering condolences. Try to use electronic messages if it is an absolute last resort, for instance, when you may send your condolences to someone abroad.
If you have no choice but to use electronic communication, an email may appear more sincere than an SMS or tweet. As you compose your email, try to make it heartfelt and meaningful, and avoid emojis or casual language.
A better option for electronic communication would be a sympathy card or a handwritten letter. If you opt for a card, do not send a plain card with only the writing that comes printed on the inside. Add your own words and thoughts to show your support to someone who is grieving.
3. Avoid Comparisons
Every one of us has lost a loved one in death. However, everyone grieves in his or her way. Therefore, when offering condolences, it is not the time to relate your personal experience of how you lost a loved one in death. Worse yet, how you lost a dearly beloved pet. Personal reference, as relatable as it might be, would draw the attention away from them and on to you. Instead, try to focus on the grieving person and their loss, and let them see you are there for them.
4. Be Specific
Speak about the deceased person by name and try to share a specific and endearing story or memory that acknowledges the life of the person whom they have lost. Maybe you did not know their lost friend or relative well, nor had you interacted with them. Try to remember something your colleague or friend mentioned about them you could both recall with fondness.
5. Don’t Worry About Timing
You may hear of a colleague or friend’s loss of a loved one long after the wake and funeral and may fear that it is too late to offer your condolences. Some may mistakenly think that late condolences would likely trigger feelings of grief and pain. However, the reverse is the case.
During the time surrounding the wake and the funeral, a grieving person is likely to receive a flood of sympathies and condolences. However, in time, as people go back to the business of daily living, the grieving person gradually receives less and less support. Therefore, receiving condolences from you after others have moved on will be very comforting.
6. Don’t Overstep
When offering your condolences, leave it at expressing your sorrow and showing your solidarity. Do not overstep and inquire about how or when the person died. Whenever your grieving friend or colleague wants to share that information with you, lend your listening ear and talk less. Let the bereaved one talk about the person they have lost in death, but do not pressure them to speak or probe further, no matter how much you may have unanswered questions.
If you already know about the circumstances of the death, do not bring these up or allude to them. These thoughts will only stir up sad memories of how their loved one died and heighten their sorrow and pain.
7. Keep Offering Condolences
Even after you have offered your condolences, it is a significant source of comfort to keep checking on the bereaved family. Your presence will reassure the family you still have them in mind and that you are still available to help them. As life continues, try to include them in various social plans, but avoid events that would remind them of their loss.
The bereaved family or friends may find it especially difficult during holidays or anniversaries. Therefore, note such dates and attempt to reach out to them on these occasions.
8. Don’t Use Platitudes
Avoid using clichés and inappropriate statements that disrespect the deceased or imply that the death was for the best. These include phrases like:
- They are in a better place
- They have rested
- I know how you feel
- At least there wasn’t any pain
- At least you got to say goodbye
- It was God’s will
- You’ll find someone else
- Keep yourself busy
- You can have another child
- Be strong
The list of do’s and don’ts can go on endlessly. Thus, a principle to keep in mind on your cause of action. When offering condolences, aim to let your grieving colleague or friend know you share in their pain and are ready to support them through their grief.