Ways to Show Sympathy

Losing a loved one, whether a spouse, child, parent, or friend is not easy. Regardless of the circumstances, death is painful. As friends or family members of those grieving, it can be a struggle to find the right words or gestures to express sympathy, but the most important thing to remember is to be heartfelt and sincere.

From sending cards and leaving comments online to sending flowers or doing household chores, there are many ways to offer comfort and support. Here are some ideas of things you can say or do to support those who are going through a difficult time.

Show Sympathy with Your Words

Kind, genuine, and compassionate words can bring comfort to those who are grieving. It can be a note or memory left on the online obituary guestbook, a text or email a card in the mail, a phone call, or a face-to-face interaction. Keep in mind that people who are grieving feel very alone. Reaching out with words reminds them they are not isolated, alone, or forgotten. Many read and reread the online comments or sympathy cards, sometimes for years to come.

As you express your sympathy through words, gestures of condolences, or actions, keep a couple of small tips in mind. Don’t compare grief (“I know how you feel…”). In each relationship, each person is unique. Allow them their own grief and give them compassionate support. Don’t use trite answers, don’t minimize their pain, and don’t trivialize the experience or tell them to move on (“you can remarry”, “you have other children” or “it was just their time”). Instead, you can say, “I hate that you are going through this difficult time”, or “this must be really hard for you”.

Show Sympathy through Gestures

Many people choose to celebrate a loved one’s life through kind gestures. Flowers and plants are common expressions of sympathy and caring. Consider sending a symbolic plant or one that will last year-round indoors that will serve as a welcome tribute to the person who has passed away. Personalized or hand-written condolence cards with plants or flowers can symbolize your affection for the person who has passed away in their family.

Other gestures may include a donation to a charity. Refer to their online obituary to see if a specific charity or beneficiary is recommended. Donating to charity in honor of a friend or family member who has passed away can bring a sense of peace and purpose to their loved ones. Acknowledgment of what was important to them still matters and continues to be important to those who knew and loved them.

Show Sympathy through Actions

As you watch those you love grieve, and as you yourself mourn a loss, you may feel helpless and unable to take away the pain or bring comfort. This feeling often compels people to express sympathy by doing something practical to help, and chances are, these acts of condolences will be welcomed.

If you want to help through action, be specific in your offers. “Let me know if/or what can I do to help” is a sweet sentiment, but many times those who have just lost a loved one feel as though they are drowning in all that needs to be done or may not even know where to begin. Offering specific tasks may just be the lifeline they need.

Some practical ways to show sympathy through actions
• Offer to do yard work, such as mowing the lawn
• Buy groceries. Check the refrigerator or pantry, then buy a few staples
• Assist with daily tasks (i.e. Laundry, wash dishes, vacuuming)
• Sit with them and assist them in reconciling bills, utilities, financial papers, etc. This is especially true if the person that has passed away was not part of the same household and there is no one remaining in the household to manage those tasks.
• Provide meals
• Take them to run errands, especially if they are elderly or uncomfortable driving
• Get them outside. Getting fresh air, exercising, and stepping away from the busyness is important.

It is tough to know what to say or do, but no matter how you express your sympathy, be sincere, listen and stay in contact. Be a caring presence in their life to offer encouragement and a shoulder to cry on, and let them know they are not alone.