What to Say
Expressions of sympathy
Most people don't have to deal with the funeral process on a regular basis, which means that it can be hard to know exactly how to express sympathy to those who have lost a loved one. For the most part, you'll want to remember that the bereaved are going through a difficult, stressful and sometimes confusing time in their lives. You need to address this directly, avoiding the use of clichés or any kind of expressions that trivialize or generalize what they're going through. No one experiences death in the same way so you have to think of the people you're speaking to.
Unless you're a close friend or family member, you probably won't be spending a lot of time talking to the bereaved. There are always a lot of people around during this time, so don't feel ignored if you only have a few minutes together.
While you don't want to offer only platitudes, there are some common expressions that you can rely on if you don't know what to say. You want to keep your expressions simple, direct and honest.
Some things you might say are:
- "I'm so sorry"
- "My sympathy to you and your family"
- "I'm here if you need to talk"
Personalize your Sympathy
Direct expressions of personalized sympathy are the best way to give your wishes. Address the qualities of the deceased so that you and the bereaved might share a memory, or at least recognize the love you each had for the decedent. Personal comments are more reassuring to the bereaved than general expressions.
You should also remember that sympathy is not only words of support, but also actions. Concrete offers to help that include dates and times will likely be welcomed; for example, suggest you'll cook dinner on a certain night of the week or that you'll baby-sit on a specific evening.
What to Avoid
You can actually increase the stress and pain of the bereaved if you say something that minimizes their emotions or puts expectations on their response to the grieving and funeral process. You'll want to avoid saying anything like:
- "Time heals all wounds"
- "I know how you feel"
- "He's better off now"
- "You can have more children"
- "You have to keep busy"
- "You'll get over it"
- "You need to express your feelings"
In the end, everyone deals differently with the loss of a loved one and you have to be considerate of the feelings of the bereaved when you're preparing to offer sympathy.