An Expression of Sympathy

sympathy

If it were not for social media, I might not have learned of three deaths this weekend.  All have their touch of deep sadness.  One, a young man, whose murder remains unsolved.  Another, a mother close to my own age, who I knew quite casually.  The last, the husband of an old friend.  In all three instances, I was able to relate to the survivor’s pain in some fashion.  However, I was careful when I expressed my condolences.  After all, they are the ones who merit the sympathy.  My own fears of losing a child or a spouse are irrelevant.  The same is true of my wish that my own mother still walked on this earth.  Those who mourn now need careful words of condolences.

For this reason,   Please comment if I have left anything out or you disagree:

1.  Express sincere sorrow without mentioning a similar loss.  Many don’t want to hear that “you understand”, because you lost your brother 10 years ago and are still grieving over it.  Everyone’s pain is different.  It is better to say that “you imagine someone’s pain” than to compare it to your own.

2. Share joyful memories of the deceased.  I loved hearing that my mother, the ballerina introduced a young person to a career in ballet.  I knew she made a difference, but it felt great to hear it from someone else.

3. “God must have needed another angel.”  This sounds beautiful and may be your belief.  However, question the sensibility of saying this to a parent who has just lost a child.  They want their angel here on earth.

4.  Point out particular good qualities of the deceased and relate them to the bereaved.  “Your grandmother was such a good cook.  Did you learn how to make her special dish?”  “He had a really great sense of humor.  I remember more than one practical joke he pulled on the guys.”

5. Send pictures.  If you have photographs showing the deceased in happy times, share them with the next of kin.

6. Make offers to help, but be specific.  If you tell someone that you are happy to do anything, they will most likely not want to impose on you.  However, if you suggest you could feed their dog while they are at the funeral home, they will likely be appreciative.

7. If someone dies after a long illness, don’t presume that the bereaved is happy it is over.  When someone loses a loved one, they are still in grief.  Forget the phrase, “He/she is out of his/her misery.”

8. Don’t tell a person in mourning that you are going to stop a bad habit because of their loved one’s death.  “I am going to stop smoking because your husband died of lung cancer,” sounds a bit callous.

9. Ask little questions.  Let the bereaved share the specifics of their loved one’s death at their own pace.  Frankly, dead is dead.

10.  Long after the loved one passes, those who mourn continue to feel the pain.  Check on them.  Do what you can to give the gift of yourself.

Tomorrow is promised to no one.  Treasure life and the people in it.

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An Expression of Sympathy
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An Expression of Sympathy
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Some suggested ways of expressing sympathy in writing or in person.
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