How to express sympathy

Offer condolences in-person or in writing can be challenging. It can be challenging to put into words the complex emotions we feel as we grieve over the loss of a loved one. Here is a list of things to say and things to avoid saying when offering condolences.

What to say

The point of expressing sympathy is to let the other person know you care for their loss and offer your compassion to them. You can do this by sharing a happy memory about the person who died or talk about how much you miss them. The most important thing is to communicate that you are available as a source of comfort.

I am sorry for your loss – This is one of the most cliched things to say, but it is also one of the most effective. If you are at a loss for words, this is the best phrase to fall back on. It succinctly communicates your empathy.

You are in my thoughts/I am thinking of you – A grieving person will feel less isolated from their experience when you tell them this. It lets them know you are aware of the emotional weight of the situation and that you care enough to be thinking of them.

This must be so hard for you – Acknowledging the grief and pain of a bereaved person can feel comforting for them. Many people who experience loss feel isolated because of their feelings. Addressing the difficulty of the situation can help them feel less alone.

I love you – If you are close enough to the grieving person, reminding them that you love them can be especially useful. It also tells them that they are not alone and that they are surrounded by people that care for them deeply.

When you are ready, I would like to get together and learn more about the person who died – If you did not know the person who died well, offering to listen can make the individual grieving feel cared for and take the pressure off of interacting immediately. It is consoling for them to know you are there for them in the future as well.

What not to say

As long as you speak from a place of compassion, whatever you say should be adequate. Although, this is a time where emotions are high, and people can feel overwhelmed making them unaware of how what they say comes off. Here are some rules to follow when figuring out what not to say:

  • Do not deny the emotional pain felt by the bereaved person
  • Do not deny that this death changes everyone’s lives
  • Do not deny the death of the deceased

Here are some phrases that should be avoided:

You will feel better soon – While you may mean to help the grieving person look to the future, it is essential to let them have this time to grieve. Do not pressure them to get over it.

They are in a better place – If you are unsure of the bereaved person’s faith, do not say this. It could be seen as offensive. Instead, focus on the pain the bereaved is feeling and show compassion about that.

I know how you are feeling – While this statement seems sympathetic, it can also come off undermining. Everyone experiences grief differently. Instead say, “If you want to talk about what you are feeling, I am here for you.”

How are you doing? – Most people experiencing grief will say, “not well.” It can feel natural to want to check in on people experiencing pain, but this type of casual question can force people to put on a false face.

The loss of a loved one is never easy, and there is no “right” way to grieve. Understanding that everyone deals with pain differently can help you deal with these complex emotions better. Call Amherst Funeral and Cremation for help during this challenging time. We can take care of all of the details while you focus on the important things.

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