A group of people gather at sunset to express sympathy for the loss of a loved one

How to Express Sympathy for the Death of a Loved One

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When someone we know loses a loved one or a pet, it can be difficult to know what to say. Knowing that they’re in pain, we want to offer comfort and let them know we’re thinking of them, but we worry that we’ll say the wrong thing.

While many of us struggle with how to express sympathy for death, we shouldn’t let this stop us from reaching out. Knowing that other people are there to offer support is important to someone who is grieving. Simply: It’s better to say something than nothing at all.

If you’re unsure of how to get in touch or struggling to find the right words, below you will find some ways you can reach out and suggestions of what to say. 

4 ways to express sympathy for death

How you express sympathy for the death of a loved one will depend on what you feel comfortable with and your relationship with the person who is grieving. There is no right or wrong way to offer your condolences — the sentiment is what’s important.

1. Call them on the phone

If you know the person well, consider giving them a phone call, as they may want someone to talk to. However, bear in mind that they may be feeling emotional and not seem like their normal self. Don’t take it personally — it doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate you getting in touch.

2. Send them a text message

Sending someone a text lets them know you’re thinking of them but allows them to respond if and when they’re ready. In the text, you could let them know that you’re there if they would like to talk on the phone or meet.

3. Visit them in person

It is best to only drop by if you know the person well or have arranged it with them in advance, as many people want their privacy when grieving. However, if they have said that they would like some company, visiting them can bring comfort. Many people like to bring pre-prepared meals or offer to do chores while a loved one is experiencing grief. 

4. Send a condolence card

Sending a condolence card is a lovely way to let someone know that you are thinking of them, without creating pressure to respond. You can let them know that you are there whenever they are ready, and perhaps include some kind words or a memory about the loved one who has passed away.

If you’re struggling with what to say, below are some suggestions.

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What is the best condolence message?

What you write in a condolence message should acknowledge the loss of the loved one and show your sympathy. You could also write a message or anecdote about the person who has passed away and offer emotional and practical support. Remember that sending a condolence message is simply to let your friend or loved one know that you are thinking of them during a difficult time.

Follow these tips to begin writing your condolence message.

1. Express sympathy for their loss

A few words to recognize what has happened and offer sympathy is an important way to start your condolence message. Some of the traditional phrases may feel a little clichéd, but they still show that you care. You can always follow up with something more personalized, but these phrases can help start your message.

  • “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  • “My deepest sympathies to you and your family.”
  • “Words can’t describe how sorry I am for your loss.”
  • “Thinking of you at this difficult time.”
  • “So sorry to hear about your mother…”.

2. Personalize your message

Hearing how a loved one touched the lives of others can offer solace to someone who is grieving. If you knew the person, and feel comfortable doing so, write a few words about how you’ll miss them. Here are some examples of things you could say.

  • “They were a wonderful person.”
  • “I feel privileged to have known Ellen.”
  • “Your brother was one-in-a-million.”
  • “I’ll always remember her kindness and generosity.”
  • “My favorite memory of him will always be…” 

3. Let them know you’re there

To end your message, it can be nice to let the person know that you’re there if they need any support during this difficult time. It’s important for them to feel that they have people that they can rely on. Here are a few ways to express that.

  • “I’m always on the other end of the phone if you need me.”
  • “If there’s anything at all that I can do, just let me know.”
  • “I’ll take care of your dog for as long as you need.”
  • “Take as much time as you need, but I’ll be here when you’re ready to talk.”
  • “I love you and I’m always here for you.”

Read more: What to say in certain situations such as the loss of a spouse, child, or pet

Many of us have sadly had to think more about death and mortality since the COVID-19 pandemic. While these are difficult topics to deal with, connecting with others can help people process their emotions, especially after experiencing a loss. However you decide to reach out and offer your condolences, the most important thing is to show your compassion, love, and support.

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