Extending Condolences: Eight Tips for Sharing Your Heartfelt Sympathies
Most people find it hard to put their deepest sympathies into words.
Whether you are posting to a funeral home’s online sympathy board or sending condolences by mail, knowing what to say and how to say it can be a real challenge. If you are afraid you will sound trite or say the wrong thing, the pointers below can help.
Realize it may be awkward for both of you.
Your mourning friend of family member probably also feels uneasy. After all, the situation is new for them, too. The act of reaching out is what’s important. Don’t let a little awkwardness keep you from showing your support in their time of need. Opening with “I don’t know what to say” or “I’m at a loss for words” is perfectly fine and may put you both at ease.
Focus on the bereaved.
It can be tempting to want to connect with the bereaved by mentioning a similar loss that you experienced. However, you should avoid writing or saying, “I know how you feel.” Even though your heart is in the right place, grief is a very unique experience. You can never know exactly how someone else feels. Instead, you might say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Fondly remember the departed.
Stories about loved ones become even more significant once that person is no longer with us. If you have any loving memories of the deceased, share one or two of them in your condolence letter or sympathy card. You might also recall a special quality that you remember about them. If you didn’t know the person well, you can always write, “While I never got to know [name] as well as I would have liked, I can tell that she meant the world to you. I will always cherish the stories that you told me about her travels.” Doing so lets the grieving person know that their loved one’s life was special and significant.
Keep it short and be positive.
Brief can be better when it comes to sympathy letters. You may have a conflicted past with the bereaved or the deceased, but the sympathy card is not the place to air out your feelings. Keeping your message simple will help you to avoid any missteps.
Offer specific help—then follow through.
Most people find it hard to ask for and accept help. If you really want to extend a hand to your grieving friend, be specific. Try offering something a particular action along with a date, such as, “You mentioned that you aren’t sure how to write an obituary notice. I could stop by tomorrow to help you out.”
Include a handwritten note.
Sympathy cards are great vehicles for conveying a thoughtful message. If you are sending a card, personalize it further with a brief note. For instance, you might say: “Please accept my heartfelt condolences,” “My heart and prayers are with you during this difficult time,” or “Wishing you peace.”
Strive for connection, not perfection.
Putting pressure on yourself to get the messaging ‘just right’ may result in you foregoing your condolence letter altogether. Ask questions if you aren’t sure what to say. “How are you doing?” is a great opener that shows your interest and lets your friend or family member know they can share their feelings with you.
Be sure to send it.
The act of acknowledging the loss is more important than what you say. Although funeral etiquette recommends sending condolences within two weeks, it is never too late to reach out. Your hurting friend or loved one will be grateful for notes received throughout the first year and on anniversaries.
We hope you find these guidelines helpful. If you need additional pointers for expressing your condolences, please reach out to us anytime. It is always our pleasure to assist you.
About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.