When a friend, family member, or someone you know loses a loved one, passing on your condolences helps show them your care and are there to provide support during this difficult time.
But with so many ways to connect and communicate with people these days, it can be very confusing about the best way to pass on your sympathies and what are the right things to say.
So, to help you navigate this often-difficult time and help you chose the best way to share your sympathies, we’ve created this guide which looks at:
- Different ways to pass on your condolences
- What to say when sharing your condolences
- Topics to avoid when sharing your condolences
What are the different ways I can pass on my condolences?
While there are many ways you can pass on your condolences, how you share them can depend a lot on your personal relationship with the person grieving. Let’s look at some popular ways.
If someone close to you has suffered the loss of a loved one, then calling is one of the best ways to offer your condolences. It’s very personal and shows them really you care. To ensure you’re able to give the person your full attention, it’s important to make sure you have time to talk to ensure you are calling from a quiet place.
If they don’t answer your call, they could be busy with private matters concerning their recent loss or wish to be alone. Whatever the reason, it’s important to respect their wishes and not overwhelm them with missed calls.
Sending a message
Like with a phone call, sending a message can also be a personal way to share your condolences. So, if you know the person well, a sincere message sent via text or another messaging apps like Facebook messenger, can be a very welcome and supportive during times of loss.
However, it’s important to remember that if you’re really close to the loved one of the deceased, they may be expecting a call from you. And if they don’t receive one, it could leave them feeling hurt. So, if you’re planning to call them later then tell them in your message that you can’t talk right now and you will call when you can.
Social media has allowed us to connect with more people than ever before. This often includes workmates, friend-of-friends and people that we don’t have regular contact with or know very well.
So, when you see a post from Facebook friend who has lost a loved one and you want to offer your condolences, it’s best to do as most people do in this circumstance and add a short, supportive comment to the post. For example:
- Thinking of you and your family during this difficult time.
- I’m so sad for your loss.
- Thinking of you Dave. I’m so sorry for your loss.
- So sorry for your loss Michelle, sending hugs
- My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this sad time xox
And very importantly, Facebook is not a place to ask about the details surrounding someone’s death. Also, before you click ‘like’ on a post announcing the passing of a loved one, think if there is a better way to respond. The ‘heart’ and ’sad’ responses may be more appropriate at this time.
When meeting a person who has suffered a great loss, it can be difficult and sometimes overwhelming. But by taking the time to visit them or attending a funeral, you can bring great support and comfort to the loved ones of the deceased.
When offering your condolences in person, you may be worried that you’ll upset them by looking like you don’t care enough or by coming on too strong. Although each situation is unique, there are a few basic rules that you should follow to help you come across as understanding and supportive:
- Put away all distractions – turn off your phone and avoid playing with hair or jewellery
- Stay focused on them – don’t look around the room and speak slowly
- Don’t overstep boundaries – if you don’t know the person well, you don’t need to give the person a hug. A simple handshake is enough.
- Listen – if the person looks like they want to talk, let them. When you’re not talking, nod and maintain eye contact
Ask if there is anything you can do to help – and make sure you can commit to doing something if you say yes.
Sending a sympathy card
Sending a sympathy card is a gentle way to show your care and support for the person morning a loved one. There is also no time limit on how long after death you can send a card. So, even if you find out months later that someone you know has suffered a loss, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable sharing your condolences this way.
While sympathy cards are not normally sent between immediate family members, it is ok to send a condolence card to a family member you may not be so close too, like a cousin.
What should I say in a condolence message?
Finding the right words and knowing what to when offering your condolences isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often very hard. So, if you need some help, this suggested structure might provide a helpful guide to structure your message or to prepare for your conversation.
Provide a Context
Begin by letting the person know how you found out about the loss. This will provide a context for your message and a foundation for your thoughts.
I met with your brother in town last week and he told me the sad news about the death of your Father.
Express your Feelings
Continue with a brief description of what you felt when hearing of the loss. You could express your sadness and offer your sympathy in this section of the condolence message.I was so sorry to hear of your loss, and I imagine the last few weeks have been very difficult for you and your family.
Include a Reflection
You might like to provide a short and positive reflection about the personality of deceased. The person receiving your sympathy message will appreciate your thoughtful insights into the character of their loved one.Erica was such a creative woman. She had an amazing talent for photography and was always so generous in offering her advice and sharing her skills.
Share a story
Sharing pleasant stories or anecdotes is a very important part of the grief journey. If you can recall a special memory about the loved one, try to share the story in your condolence message.Last Christmas Eric was so nice to me when I couldn’t understand the different settings on my new camera. He taught me a few cool tricks, and we shared had a good laugh about my blurred attempts at family portraits.
It can be helpful to close your condolence message with an offer of support. They will have a lot on their minds at the moment, so instead of putting them in a position of having to ask for help by inviting them to contact you ‘when they need support,’ try to be specific and definite about your plans.I know you like to keep your front lawn neat and tidy, so from next week I’ll be around to mow each Monday. At least that’ll be one less thing you need to think about organising for the next few months.
What should I write in a short condolence message?
If you are writing in a card or a condolence book, you might prefer to write a shorter message of sympathy. We have provided some examples here:
- We are so sorry to hear of your loss.
- Our hearts are with you in this time of sorrow.
- Please accept our heartfelt condolences on the loss of your loved one.
- Words can’t express how sorry we are to hear of your loss.
- Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this sad time.
What should I avoid saying when offering my condolences?
When offering your sympathies, you are seeking to express your love, compassion, and understanding for the grieving person. The last thing you want to do is to cause further upset or confusion. So, when offering your condolences and words of sympathy and we would suggest avoiding the following themes:
- Don’t make comparisons
Sharing the details of your own experience with grief, and then drawing comparisons with the current situation is not helpful. A comparison can make people feel their feelings of grief are being misunderstood or unimportant.
- Don’t express relief
Even after a long illness, it is not very considerate to express relief that, ‘it’s over now.’ When they are alone, the loved ones of the deceased may be having these thoughts, but mentioning this to them could make them feel guilty. Instead, saying something like ‘their pain is over and they are at peace’ is a more subtle option.
- Don’t mention money
A condolence message is not the place to raise questions about the Will, bring up old debts or lay claim to items that the deceased might have promised you. These discussions are important but are best kept separate when sharing your condolences.
- Don’t take sides
Don’t mention any family feuds or friendship disputes. Although these things are common and dealing with grief can trigger emotions and feelings related to these topics, it’s not an appropriate time to bring these matters up while people are in morning.
- Don’t tell people to look on the bright side
Although you can mean well-intended, encouraging people to ‘cheer up’ and ‘look on the bright side’ after losing a loved can often have the opposite effect. Sometimes a straightforward acknowledgement of the difficult time they are experiencing is best and the sharing of a happy memory or anecdote can bring comfort.
Further advice and information about common funeral etiquette can be found in our article about Funeral Etiquette Tips.