How do you express condolences?
Often, writing condolences is very difficult. You may not know what to say, or how to say it.
Condolences are not only difficult when someone has died, they are equally difficult when someone’s partner has left them, or a friend has lost their job, or if someone receives the news that they have cancer, for example.
If you live close by
If you live close to the person who has suffered loss, don’t avoid them because you don’t know what to say. I know it’s hard to find words, but those who have just suffered loss don’t need to feel isolation at the same time. Often what you do is more significant than what you say in these circumstances, and, after you’ve managed your own feelings, focus on the other person.
Our friends need comfort and support during their time of sorrow. Even though it’s hard to find the right words, I can certainly tell you there are some wrong words. Never tell them “Everything happens for a reason” or “I know just how you feel.” Neither of these are comforting, believe me. One of my acquaintances wrote me a three page letter talking about how she was affected when her father died. This is also the wrong thing to do. It isn’t about you.
If you don’t know what to say, admit that you don’t know what to say. That’s a good start to the conversation. After that, you can tell them that you care about them and are there for them.
Listen to them. If the person needs to talk, listening is the very best thing that you can do. Don’t turn the conversation back to you, with “when my father died, I felt…” Just listen and let them talk. Every experience of grief is different. Some people are in shock, some in distress, some are angry or numb. Some even react with grim humour. Your job is to give them the space they need for their own form of grief.
Offer to do something specific. Don’t say, “Let me know what you need” because that puts the burden of asking onto them. Offer to shop for their groceries, or cook a meal for them, take the children somewhere or run an errand.
Don’t ask how they are. Ask how they are coping today, or how they are today. This recognises that every day is different and that you understand that they are getting through one day at a time.
It’s not your job to fix everything, just to be there and help and listen.
If you live far away
Of course, there are times when you can’t be there. There are times when you can only send a card or letter or email, or a comment on facebook. What do you say then?
- Keep it short
- Make it personal
- Plan it first
- Send it as soon as you can.
If the person who suffered loss is religious—and you are, too—you could say something about their loved one being in heaven, and that you are including your friend in your prayers.
If they aren’t religious—or if you aren’t—a good message of condolence contains:
- How sorry you are that they are suffering
- Offer help/ company/ an ear if they need to talk
- If the loss is a bereavement, follow this by a memory of how their loved one touched your life in some positive way. This creates a connection, and is something that your friend will remember and will bring some comfort.
Facebook or other forms of social media can be of use after the death of a loved one—especially to coordinate arrangements and give information about the funeral etc.
However, ALWAYS let the closest loved ones post first. Maybe they still need to inform family members. Imagine how awful it would be if you discovered a close relative’s death on social media! The closest person should decide what, when, and how they want to post.
Don’t clamour for details. Your curiosity is far less important than the family’s need for privacy.
If the family sets up a memorial page, post your memories there.
Don’t expect the family to respond.
Don’t feel guilty for unfollowing the deceased.
Click “love” or “sad” rather than “like” for a notice of passing.
Lastly, could I suggest that you consider looking ahead to your own passing.
What would you like to happen?
How can your family deal with your online presence?
In The Family Message Book you can make those preparations.
The Family Message Book is your message to your family. It contains all the things they need to know if you should pass away.
If you would like a copy, please feel free to contact me, or purchase one through the website.