Offering Words of Condolence
When someone has passed away, the bereaved have a difficult time coping with the new life ahead of them. Figuring out how to cope with new grief is not easy, especially for immediate family member, but friends of the family are put in a difficult situation as well. Knowing what to say to a grieving person can be a tongue-tying experience, as it needs to be both compassionate and comforting. The only right thing to do is to give your condolences, but how do you do this without sounding confused, condescending, or even hurtful? While some people try to avoid the situation altogether and don’t say anything at all, it’s best to address it head on, and offer the family comforting words.
Many people choose to do non-verbal acts that show their compassion, such as helping settle affairs, bringing foods and sweets, and even physically comforting them. But eventually, you will have to respond verbally, and it’s best to be prepared for such a situation.
Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow.
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Condolences - Phrasing What to Say
If you haven’t suffered the loss of a loved one yourself, you likely don’t fully understand what the family is feeling, and no one expects you to. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with telling them something along the lines of “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling right now, but regardless, I’m here to talk if you want to”. While everyone deals with their grief differently, anyone would appreciate you being honest and speaking from the heart. By doing so, you’ll convey more emotion than your words ever could, and the bereaved will appreciate this.
Phrases such as “We send you our condolences”, “We’re praying for you”, or “We’re thinking of you” are all appropriate expressions to say to the mourning. You may even choose to convey your thoughts through writing, by writing in the funeral guest book, sending a card, or even emailing the family. As long as your thoughts are appropriate and compassionate, the mourning family will have no reason to find issue with them.
When expressing your thoughts to the family, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with referring to the deceased person. You may have your own fond and loving memories of them, and sharing these with the family will only help them to memorialize their loved one. By showing that you’re thinking of the deceased, especially in such a loving way, will show the family your compassion. You can continue to do so on anniversaries and at special events where the deceased is being remembered or discussed. The family will continue to think of their lost loved on for the rest of their lives, remembering them whenever appropriate. If you’re also thinking of the deceased, why shouldn’t you let them know in an appropriate and respectful way?
Things to Consider
Certainly, there are things that you can say that the family will not find so comforting. It’s important to watch out for these, and to think long and hard before saying or doing anything for the family. Just because you don’t find something hurtful or offensive, doesn’t mean that they won’t.
Here are a few common phrases that people tell the mourning that may not be such a good choice to use:
“I know exactly how you feel”. The problem with this is that it’s an assumption about how the person feels and their process of grieving, something which you likely know very little about. They may grieve very differently than you, and making such an assertion could only serve to offend them. If you have grieved before, a better idea is to tell them why and how you were grieving, and what mechanisms worked for you. You can express the feelings that you had at the time, and inquire about their feelings at the given moment.
“They’re in a better place now”. If their loved one suffered from an extended and painful illness, by all measures you may believe that they’re better off being deceased. But this is not for you to decide, certainly when it comes to how the family feels. They may think that their loved ones time was cut short, or that living with an illness is better than not living at all. It’s better to avoid such sweeping assertions, and to let the family decide how they feel about this.
“Let me know if you need anything”. You’re not speaking to a client, and it’s best to not treat the family as such. The grieving family is tired, grieving, and afraid. They’re likely not going to reach out to you for specific request, just because they may be nervous to ask for too much. By making such an offer, you actually give them very little, as they likely won’t use it. Instead, offer the family something specific, such as helping with funeral arrangements, babysitting, food preparation, or even invite them all over for something that will help take their minds off the passing. By being so specific, the family is much more likely to accept, and you’ll be able to help out where you feel necessary.
When you haven’t lost a loved on yourself, or if you haven’t grieved for a long time, it can be difficult to understand and relate to how a mourning family is feeling. Even if you do think that you understand, their method of mourning could be very different from yours, and might require a different type of aid. You obviously want to help them move forward, otherwise you wouldn’t be saying anything at all, but it’s important to think deeply before saying or doing something. Consider what the family may be feeling, and think of what you can say that will show them you’re thinking about them and want to help. Not making implications, being open to ideas, and offering specific aid are excellent way to show your condolences to a family in an effective way. Above all, it’s important to put the needs of the family first, and to comfort them how they need, not the other way around.