Whether you send a sympathy card, make a call or leave an online condolence message, letting someone know that you care about their loss and are thinking of them is a lovely thing to do. The appreciation of a gesture of kindness and support during a time of grief should not be underestimated.
It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one but writing a sympathy message doesn’t have to be difficult. Though there’s no perfect condolence, there are some things you can keep in mind when you’re offering someone sympathy.
What to say in a condolence message
“We all need help at times like this, and I am here for you.” These words may seem simple but just being available to someone who is mourning is one of the best things you can do. Someone who has lost a loved one may feel alone in their grief, and knowing that there is a friend to talk to is comforting.
When you’re having a difficult time finding the right words, spiritual verses or happy memories about the deceased are other ways to show you care. Recalling stories, memories or the lifelong passions of the person who has passed can add a personal touch to a sympathy message.
Different situations call for different kinds of condolence messages. For instance, if the bereaved has lost a child, a different condolence is called for than if he or she has lost a grandparent.
Keep in mind the religious traditions of the family as well. A Catholic family will appreciate a mass condolence card. If you are sending a shiva gift to a Jewish family in mourning, a message like “My thoughts and prayers are with you as you mourn” is a good way to begin.
What to avoid in a condolence message
There are a few things you should avoid when writing a sympathy message. Avoid clichéd phrases, such as “I know how you feel,” “It was God’s will,” “At least he lived a long life” and so on, as these could be seen as unsupportive of the grieving process.
Though emojis and emoticons are informal tools for modern communication, you should limit their use when crafting a condolence message. Especially when there are generational boundaries, emojis in a solemn sympathy message could be misinterpreted or seen as disrespectful.
When offering condolences, it’s important to keep the focus on the bereaved and make sure they feel supported during this difficult time. Avoid making the message about yourself. Though you want to remind the family that they’re not alone, focusing your sympathy message on your own experiences with death and grieving is rarely the best approach.
Follow the family's lead
When determining the tone of your condolence, it can be helpful to follow the lead of the tone set with the obituary. If the obituary is joyful, then share joyful memories of the person who has died. Sharing a fun photo, video or other memory in your online condolence or sympathy message is a very personal way to let the family know how important their loved one was in the lives of others. However, if the tone of the obituary is solemn, focus on sympathy and comfort. If the family is religious, including relevant prayers and verses from holy texts is a thoughtful way to remind the family that you are thinking about them.
Bring comfort through gestures
Where words fail to express your condolences, friendly gestures like flowers, gifts or food are usually appreciated. Never hesitate to ask the funeral director or a member of the family if you have any doubt about the appropriateness of condolence gifts—some people have allergies or other medical conditions that might make flowers or certain foods off limits. A family receiving an outpouring of support may feel guilty if they receive more food than they know what to do with. Check with the family’s church or synagogue, or a member of the family if you wish to send a sympathy gift during this time.
Be supportive after the funeral
The grieving process continues long after the funeral. Once the hectic time ofpasses and the celebration of life has ended, the bereaved will return to everyday life. It’s during this time that your condolence messages and sympathy gifts will be more important and more appreciated than ever. Continuing to express your sympathy in the weeks and months following a death shows the family that you really meant it when you said, “I am here for you.” Cards, flowers, acts of service or gifts reminding the loved one’s family that you are still thinking of them will help them ease into life without their loved one.
Likewise, the anniversary of someone’s passing will be a difficult day for his or her family and friends, and sympathy messages and gifts will be especially appreciated at that time.
We are here to help
Remember, there is no such thing as the perfect condolence message. Do a little research, and write or speak from your heart. The family will appreciate that you took the time to leave a sympathy message online or send a card or gift. Dignity Memorial professionals are here to help you bring comfort to loved ones as they grieve.