Expressing Sympathy
Finding the Right Words

It is hard finding the right words in expressing sympathy. What words of comfort in bereavement can you use?

Many times the first and most important thing to do doesn’t involve words at all, but actions. - - A touch on the arm, a hand on the shoulder, a hug, all express that you care, oftentimes more than words can express.

“I love you.” Is a good place to start, or “ my heart is hurting for you.”

I love you

In the book “Finding the Right Words” by Wilfred Bockelman, he suggests that there are 3 important times to touch base with the grieving person.

1) Immediately

2) 3-4 wks. after (this is when the casseroles are gone and the numbness has worn off, people are moving on with their lives and they feel alone.)

3) on the person’s anniversary or first holiday

When my husband and I discussed this (we’ve both lost loved ones) we agreed these were important times. He suggested also the 6-month mark while I thought the 1-year anniversary of the death was important as well.

Of course it depends on how close you are to the bereaved what you will chose to say. “I love you.” may be too intimate, but saying “I am sorry for your loss.” certainly is acceptable in most cases.

expressing sympathy

And if you plan to follow up, you could say something like “I will call and check on you in a couple of weeks.” -- BUT then remember that if you choose to say something like that you MUST follow up on it!



It isn’t so much what words you choose, as it is making time for the bereaved. Spend time with them, listen to them without judgment, just be there for them.

For other ideas on how to express sympathy the following two books might be helpful;

--Healing Conversations: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say -- by Nance Guilmartinicon

-- A Good Friend for Bad Times: Helping Others Through Grief -- by Deborah E Bowen and Susan L. Stricklericon


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