5 Tips for Expressing Condolences

Expressing CondolencesA few weeks ago we had a death in our family. It was discovered that our little dog, Toby, had a large tumor in his mouth and ten days later, he was gone. We have had him and his brother Zack for over 13 years – ever since they were nine weeks old. It has been a difficult loss for all of us.

Whether a person has lost a two or four footed loved one, the accompanying pain and sorrow can run very deep. I received some very thoughtful, kind and loving messages via social media from friends (and strangers) that mean so much to me and provided a level of comfort I was not expecting. There are no perfect or magic words to say – just letting the person know you are thinking of them, and you are sorry for their pain and loss – helps.

People deal with death differently – much depends upon the circumstances, their culture, and their personal norms. Often times we don’t know what to say or do in response to someone’s loss, and out of fear of doing the wrong thing, we do nothing, which can also cause sadness. So may I offer some suggestions:

1.  Share your sadness for the loss. Let the family member know you are thinking of him/her/them. Share a good memory, and listen to what they have to say.

  • This is not the time to talk about who you’ve lost, when or how, nor should your expression of grief exceed theirs. The death and loss they are facing is not about you.

2.  Refrain from commenting that the person “…is in a better place”; “God wanted the person with Him”; or “…is now an angel” unless you know the person shares your same religious beliefs.

  • While you mean to provide comfort, your comments may be perceived differently and cause hurt and resentment.

3.  Ask what you can do and offer specific suggestions. Do the kids need rides to activities or sports? What about mowing the lawn and weeding the garden? Laundry? Grocery shopping?

  • Telling the person to call if they need anything usually results in silence.

4.  Stay in touch. A death is not temporary, and while your life may continue as usual, that person’s life will never be the same. Check in periodically just to say hi. Let him/her know you are thinking about them.

  • Those feelings of loss and hurt don’t go away in just a few days.

5.  Above all, don’t avoid the person and say nothing because you are afraid you will say the wrong thing.

  • It is the thought and emotion behind the words that are important.

I have a lovely friend and neighbor, Lisa, whom I’ve seen a couple of times since we lost Toby. We haven’t had a chance to stop and chat, but she has said that my family has been in her thoughts. Such simple words … such a depth of feeling. It really does make a difference.


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