When you learn of the death of someone, and hope to reach out to the family left behind with meaningful words of sympathy, it can be very hard to find the right ones. Please know that the simple act of "reaching out" is comforting for them, and sometimes the words themselves are lost in the haze of the early experience of grief.
Yet, you'll want to say something, won't you? But we'd like to remind you of the words of the famous 13th century Persian poet, Rumi, who said “Words are a pretext. It is the inner bond that draws one person to another, not words.” Turn to the strength of that "inner bond" between you and those in mourning, and the right words of sympathy are likely to spring to mind easily. If not, here are a few simple suggestions:
"I'm sorry for your loss." Perhaps the most well-known turn of phrase used in this situation, these five words combine to form a simple statement which opens the door to the listener to speak, or otherwise release, their sorrow. Despite its simplicity, this commonly-spoken phrase is very powerful.
"Please accept my (sincerest) sympathies." Many of us have endured loss, and this allows us to better understand–at least to some degree–the depth of their sorrow, and provides the sincerity behind your use of these words of sympathy.
"Remember that we love and care about you." Especially at a time like such, such a reminder will be deeply appreciated. In the early days of bereavement, surviving family members can feel "adrift" in their own lives, and these words will reassure them, and act as tethers to hold them securely to reality.
"Please know I'm thinking of you during this very difficult time." Again, this phrase is a clear reminder to the listener that they are cared for, and offers them great comfort.
"I will pray for you and your family." These words of sympathy, with their intention to intercede on the behalf of those who are suffering the loss through prayer are only suitable if prayer is a natural part of your spiritual life. Otherwise, they may ring "hollow" on the ears of the listener.
"Is there anything I can do for you right now?" Certainly offers of assistance are a kind; but remember this: don't offer help if you don't think you can actually step-in to provide it.
"I don't really know what to say." This simple, honest statement says it all, especially when coupled with a loving hug. Again, you are affirming your sympathy by your very honest presence in this moment in time, and opening the door to sharing.
In order to work toward the acceptance of the reality of their loss, those who grieve need time to be heard. You may find they tell the story of the circumstances of the death of their loved one time-and-again. And the biggest gift you can provide is your willingness to listen.
And of course, if you attend the funeral, you'll have another occasion to find–and use–the right words of sympathy. In this situation; often the fewer words the better, especially if the funeral is attended by a great many people all of whom are also looking for the perfect thing to say. While the common thing to say is that stand-by phrase, "I'm sorry for your loss," there's something much more meaningful you can say, and do. Start by expressing your reason for being there, with a sentence like this:
"I came today to support you and your family, and because I truly cared for (name of deceased)."
And then get personal by sharing a memory of their loved one; a special time you shared with the deceased. It doesn't need to be a long-winded story (those can come later at the funeral reception), just show them that you remember their loved one with fondness. There's nothing so engaging for the bereaved as a story that begins with, "I remember when..."
Ground Your Words and Actions with Forethought
Sometimes you just want to say something, anything, and step away. After all, it's hard to bear witness to the grief of others. But, no matter the time or the place, everything you say or do should reflect these important ideas:
Always honor the depth of their loss
Recognize you never be able to"fix" things
Admit to yourself that you can't make it better
Never ask for them to change their feelings or perceptions
Don't give advice as you have no idea the true nature of the situation
Never set time limits on your compassion and sympathy–or their grief
Remembering the words of author Elizabeth Foley, "Friends are the pillars on your porch. Sometimes they hold you up, sometimes they lean on you, and sometimes it's just enough to know that they are standing by", finding the perfect words of sympathy may be less important than striving to be "the pillar on their porch".
Still Looking for the Perfect Way to Express Your Sympathy?
Perhaps words of sympathy are not enough. In that case, you may wish to order flowers to be sent to the funeral service, or a gift basket or potted plant to be sent directly to the family. Let us guide you in your attempt to show the family of the deceased how much you care. Call us at (304) 765-5371 for personal assistance.