It’s never easy seeking the right words of condolence to share with someone you care for who has suffered a loss. Even with the very best of intentions, the wrong choice of words could inflict more harm than good. Here is a sensitive guide to words of condolence to avoid, and a few that might be just right.
Words of condolence to avoid: “They’re in a better place.”
While this phrase might seem kind at first glance, but it can be quite invalidating to feelings of the bereaved. Even if they do believe that their loved one is in a better place, it doesn’t change the pain of not having them here, with them. Instead, acknowledge how special the person was in life. More sensitive option may be: “they were a wonderful person. I will miss them,” or “when you’re ready, I would love to learn more about them.”
Words of condolence to avoid: “Everything is going to be ok.”
Yes, eventually, your loved one will be ok. But not today. And maybe not anytime soon. There is no one way to grieve, and no time-table for recovery after a loss. Telling a grieving friend that “everything will be ok” can make them feel like they need to hide or ignore their pain. Instead, perhaps say, “I love you,” or “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Acknowledging how unfair the situation is is more than ok.
Words of condolence to avoid: “I know just how you feel.”
While you may have suffered great loss yourself, we can never know exactly how another person is processing their grief. These words can make a person feel like they are not being heard or understood in the midst of their pain. A comforting alternative might be something like: “I’m thinking of you/praying for you all the time.”
Words of condolence to avoid: “Let me know if you need anything.”
A grieving person will probably not ask for help, even when they need it most. Often, they won’t have the energy to express what they need, and may not reach out to even those closest to them. A better response? Say, “I will bring you dinner on Tuesday,” or “Can I come by tomorrow to clean up and do some laundry for you?” or “I’ll pick the kids up from school and bring them home this week.” Offer to complete specific tasks, follow through, and keep on offering. Often, several weeks after the loss, things start to calm down. Including offers for help. This is the time to offer extra support and attention to your loved one.
Words of condolence that can offer comfort:
- They were a wonderful person. I will miss them.
- When you’re ready, I would love to learn more about them.
Just the fact that you’re reading this says that you are trying to be the best friend or family member you can be to someone who’s grieving. While it’s never easy, it’s important to never give up offering comfort and support.