10 Guidelines for Sympathy Words of Comfort
Words of Comfort in Bereavement

Helpful sympathy words of comfort are not always easy to find. This page makes some suggestions for things to say when meeting or visiting a bereaved person. If you are looking for ideas about written words to express sympathy, this page will suggest sympathy wording for cards, letters, poems and more.

One helpful note on the importance of visiting that Paula D’Arcy mentions in her book When People Grieve is that visiting the bereaved provides important connections with their ‘usual’ world. You are providing a familiar structure when the world seems ripped out from under them. However she also points out that unless the bereaved persons ask you to stay longer; it is important to keep visits brief. It takes great energy for those in shock to do even the smallest tasks, such as carrying on conversation. As time progresses, they may wish for longer visits.

Ten Things to remember, when offering of sympathy words of comfort

1. Look into the eyes of the bereaved and acknowledge their loss

2. Be a listening presence is often more helpful than trying to come up with things to say.

3. Extroverted people may need to tell the story of their loss over and over again—to help them believe it. So be willing to listen, repeatedly if necessary.

4. Introverted people may be too exhausted to talk. Sitting in silence is okay and may be the most helpful response.

5. Sharing one or two fond memories of the deceased may be the most helpful words of comfort in bereavement. However endless praise about how wonderful the deceased was can also cause pain as no one can know the intimacies of the relationship between individuals.

6. Saying “if you need anything, call me” or “call me anytime” may be something you really mean, but the bereaved will not have the energy to take you up on it. Make specific offers. “Can we take you and your son to the park on Saturday?”

7. When expressing sympathy, avoid trite comforts or theories about death, including religious or spiritual phrases. Everyone’s concepts are different; and initially, it doesn’t help at all and can be hurtful or confusing. This also stifles (or potentiates) anger that is a critical part of the grieving process. Life hurts right now!

8. If you have gone through a very closely parallel experience, let the bereaved know that; but save your stories until they come to you to talk.

9. “How are you?” is too big a question. “What do you need?” is even more impossible. “How are you today?” conveys concern that is manageable. It also allows for meeting the person where they are at that moment.

10. “How are you doing it?” “You are so brave;” “I don’t think I could do it,” all seem like strange comments; as if the bereaved volunteered for this assignment. They don’t know how they are doing it and don’t feel very brave; the fact is that they had no choice in the matter. A simple, “You are handling this well” or “You look good” is appreciated if it is true.

My Sympathy Cards
Send sympathy words of comfort through sympathy cards made with photos that I took during my own grief. The images provide the therapeutic element of nature, but do not gloss over the reality of the pain of grief.

Sometimes sympathy words of comfort are best passed on through an sympathy inspirational gift that comes from an author who as walked the grief journey. Seasons of Solace speaks from the depths of sorrow and the journey to finding hope and healing.

Struggling to find the perfect sympathy gift? So was Renee Wood, so she designed her own. Read my interview with Renee, Founder of The Comfort Company.

Other articles related to sympathy:

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