A delicate matter

It can be a difficult situation when someone you care for has lost someone, and you're trying to express sympathy. When doing so, you need to be able to say the right thing and express appropriate thoughts. You're trying to offer support to the bereaved. If you're doing it in paper form, you probably know that sympathy cards can be difficult to choose, and writing one is an even greater challenge.

Expressing Sympathy

It's hard to know what to say during a difficult time. Some things to remember when expressing sympathy include:

  1. Sympathy is much more about listening than talking.

  2. Know that each person grieves in his or her own way and that there is no 'right' way to grieve.

  3. You don't need to know exactly what the person is going through (i.e. what it's like to have someone close to you die) to express sympathy. A simple thing like making eye contact with them can help you understand what they are feeling and help you to find the right thing to say, even if that's just, "I'm not sure I know what to say to you."

  4. Avoid platitudes when speaking or writing to them. Don't say, "I know just how you feel," "Time heals all wounds" or "Into every life, some rain must fall." These phrases often come across as insincere.

  5. Some families can be so overcome with grief and so overwhelmed at the time of the funeral that they may not immediately remember who you are. Don't take this personally and be prepared to help them with the names of your spouse, children, etc.

  6. On the other hand, you may be in a situation where you need to talk to the deceased's spouse and other close relatives whom you don't know. Find out from others their names and how they are related to the deceased.

How to Go About Expressing Sympathy

While a personal greeting is a great way to connect with the bereaved, a well thought out personal letter to the grieving family expressing your honest feelings about the deceased is a wonderful way to express sympathy. They're going to be seeing a lot of people over the first couple of weeks following a death and it can be overwhelming. A letter can be held onto and it may provide comfort to the grieving in the weeks and months after the funeral is over and the chaos has settled down. This is when the loss of their beloved (and the attendant loneliness) really sets in.

What to Say or Write

If you can't think of anything to write, it's perfectly okay to use simple phrases such as:

  1. "I am very sorry at your loss."

  2. "I am praying for you."

You can also suggest ways that you can help, by using questions with a yes or no answer. For example ask, "Do you need a babysitter for the grandkids?" or, "Would it help if we brought you a meal?" You can help in many different, imaginative ways. Don't forget that planning a funeral is a difficult, expensive and potentially overwhelming process. If you know something about one particular aspect of funeral planning, your knowledge could be a great way to help ease the burden of loss. Remember, sympathy is just another word for offering support.

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