As we get older, it seems as though there are more funerals and memorials to attend than there are weddings and baby showers. It’s a natural part of life, but the shift from frequently celebrating joyous occasions to attending more somber ones can be an awkward one. It’s hard to know just how to comfort friends and acquaintances suffering the losses of parents and even spouses. Of course we all know that know words can truly ease the pain of losing someone you love, but often it’s better to say something than not say anything at all. Acknowledging the loss usually eases some of the awkwardness, but it’s essential to do so tactfully. Here are a few tips on the proper way to send your condolences.
Send a card. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the deceased or any family members of the deceased, the first thing you should do is send a handwritten card. When my mother passed away, I received several cards from distant relatives and friends, and the simple acknowledgment of her passing and a quick word on what she meant to them during life was quite touching. Make sure your message is brief and always include your last name and return address. Flowers and snacks are also appreciated, and if you absolutely do not have time for physically sending something, send a carefully crafted email or text.
Don’t overshadow the family’s grief. Whether you are expressing your condolences through a written message, phone call or in person, be in control of your emotions and make sure not to allow your grief to be bigger than that of the immediate family members. It may not be easy but drawing attention to your own emotions can be quite uncomfortable and even annoying to the spouse, children or parent of the deceased.
Also read: The art of finding closure
Avoid certain common phrases. Certain phrases—especially when grief is fresh—can often do more hurt than good. A grieving person does not need to be told, “I know how you feel,” “it was his time,” “there’s a reason for everything,” or even “they’re in a better place.” These phrases are not helpful or comforting, and sometimes they are not even true.
Keep it simple. It really is best to keep your words of condolence, quite simple and brief. “Thinking of you,” “I’ll miss…,” “I love you,” are all straightforward and appropriate. Offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Let the grieving come to you to initiate anything further. Pressing too hard, getting too personal or saying too much can only make things more difficult for a person who is trying to navigate a difficult emotional situation. Oh, and never expect a condolence phone call or visit to be a time to “catch up” with someone you haven’t seen or talked to in a while. Dealing with the death of a family member is a stressful and busy time, and the grieved does not need to feel pressure to recap the past 10 years.
Help meet immediate needs. If you are close to the person who is grieving, help out by providing food or childcare, clean the house, offer to make or field phone calls, etc. But only do it if you actually mean to follow through. Grief can be paralyzing, so if you make the offer take the initiative and just do whatever it is you’ve offered without expecting anyone to tell you how or when.