Here you are, standing in the receiving line at a funeral, waiting to offer your condolences. Your friend has suffered a loss and you want so much to say the right thing. “My condolences” doesn’t quite sum it up, and no matter how hard you try, you feel that your words come off as awkward, or insensitive. Really, what you may want to express boils down to a few simple ideas:

  1. I’m sorry for your loss. This expression is used so much you may feel it is a cliché’. But it is also a simple, direct way to express your condolences.
  2. I’m thinking of you. This is another frequently used expression. But it says you are aware of your friend’s pain. It says that you are holding him close in your mind and your heart. In the days and weeks to come, you can reinforce this message with visits, calls, or regular, brief messages of sympathy.
  3. This must be so hard for you. Again, you are acknowledging your friend’s pain. Trying to make it better, by saying “you’ll feel better soon,” or relating a story of your own loss, no matter how similar, fails to recognize the enormity of the loss before you. Everyone grieves differently. All you need to do is to convey your sincere sympathy.
  4. I will miss him or her. The thought that a loved one will not be remembered is unbearable. Knowing that a loved one will be remembered by others is a great comfort.

When faced with offering condolences, it’s easy to say too much. Here are a few phrases to avoid.

  1. I know how you are feeling. You probably don’t and saying you do might actually make your friend feel worse.
  2. It’s for the best. Any statement that might suggest things are better this way (his suffering is over, now you can get on with your life…) is best left unsaid.
  3. The “at least” statements. “At least he wasn’t in pain” or “at least you had many years with him.” In these circumstances there is no good sentence that begins “at least.”

Like anyone who has suffered a loss, your friend is a walking wound. Your words of sympathy mean a great deal. You may be concerned about how he or she is handling the loss, but do not pressure him. Stay focused on their needs. And remember that listening when your friend is ready to talk can be the greatest way to show you care.

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