Navigating a loss can be challenging for everyone involved. Those directly affected by the loss are going through the grieving process, which can be complex and undulating. Conversely, those on the outside know they want to support their friend or loved one during their time of need, but don’t necessarily know what to say or do.
The key to effectively expressing your condolences is to let the person own their grief without comparing or contrasting. It’s about showing that you’re there to help without sounding insensitive or overbearing. Here are five practical ways to express your condolences while navigating the social nuances of this trying time.
Craft a Thoughtful Note
Sympathy cards have long been an effective way of showing someone that you care about them and acknowledge their pain. However, these cards can sometimes come off as impersonal. Rather than relying on Hallmark to speak for you, it’s important to include a personal note in the card.
Start by acknowledging the loss. You can do this by saying, “I was saddened to hear of your father’s passing” or, “Please accept my deepest condolences on the loss of your wife.” Acknowledging the loss validates the recipient’s feelings and reminds them that it’s ok to grieve.
It could be nice to include a short memory about the person if you knew them or a positive thought if you didn’t. You might say, “I remember meeting your mom at your wedding. She was such a lovely lady” or, “I remember the many fantastic stories you shared about your brother, and I’m glad you’ll have these memories.”
Finally, tell them what you can do to offer support. Don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” as the person may feel overwhelmed and unable to highlight what help they need. Instead, say something like, “I’ll call you soon to check in.”
It’s also worth noting the things you should never say to someone who is grieving. Indicating that the person who has passed is in a better place or that this experience is something they’ll get over or learn from is insensitive. While the sentiment might come from the heart, it’s not a comfort to someone experiencing a loss.
Send a Bouquet of Flowers
Sending a bouquet of flowers is a traditional way of sharing condolences and offering support. Note that some families request that no flowers be sent; look out for this notice before you purchase a bouquet.
Flowers are traditionally seen as a sign of respect for the departed and the grieving loved ones. It’s a token of acknowledgment and understanding, offering a visual representation of affection. Many flowers carry symbolic meaning when expressing sympathies, such as white lilies and red roses. Take some time to learn more about flowers for loss before sending a bouquet.
Create a Care Package
During the darkest periods of grief, it can be hard to take care of oneself — this is one reason why food is a common gift following a loved one’s death. However, many families and individuals find themselves overwhelmed with the gifts of food, especially during a time when eating might feel like a challenge.
Instead of making a casserole or baking bread, put together a care package. Put together things that promote comfort and self-care, such as bath bombs, lotions, candles, and a cozy blanket. You can also incorporate their favorite snacks and tea to encourage them to nourish themselves again. Certain foods can also be a powerful memory trigger and bring back positive experiences during a dark time.
Don’t hesitate to add things that are specific to the grieving process, such as a journal and pen or a book on loss and grief. Incorporate personal components, like a note, so that the person knows you put it together with them in mind.
Offer a Memorial Gift
After some time has passed, it can be nice to offer the person a memorial gift. This offering of condolences might not be appropriate for coworkers and acquaintances, but it’s ideal for friends and family who might need a reminder that you’re still here for them.
There are endless options for memorial gifts. You can create a simple photo book that captures some of the best memories of the person’s life. This gift option is fantastic when a grandmother or parent passes, as it can be replicated and given to all of the grandchildren and children.
You can also have the deceased individual’s handwriting transformed into a work of art, either as jewelry, a mug, or a wall hanging. Depending on the nature of the loss and your involvement with the bereaved, you might also offer this option as a tattoo.
There are also gifts that incorporate a person’s ashes into a memento, such as a piece of jewelry or a custom urn. Finally, you can keep it simple by incorporating the person’s name into a keychain, windchime, or another simple display piece.
Give the Gift of Continued Support
One of the biggest challenges people face during the grieving process is the influx of support during the early days following a loss, followed by an absence of that support later on. Grief is a unique beast that comes and goes without warning. Many bereaved spouses and parents find themselves struggling the most weeks after the funeral is over, as it seems like everyone else has gone back to normal.
The best way to express your condolences and acknowledge the loss is to continue to be a beacon of light in dark times. Don’t send a card and a gift, then wait for the person to call. Be the one who reaches out and offers to take them out or visit. Be the person who calls once a week for years to see how they’re doing, what they need, and how you can be supportive. The bereaved person won’t always have bad days, but with your continued support, they’ll know how to make it through when those bad days arise.
Show your condolences with simplicity, thoughtfulness, and support. Keep it simple and authentic, treating people how you would want to be treated during this challenging time.