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? What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one?

It is hard finding the right words in expressing sympathy. What words of comfort in bereavement can you use? What do you say to someone who has just lost a loved one?

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

It doesn't have to be profound.  Just keep it simple.  You being there is what matters, not what you say.

I Love You speech bubble

In the book

the author suggests that there are 3 important times to touch base with the grieving person.


1) Immediately

2) 3-4 weeks after (this is when the casseroles are gone and the numbness has worn off, people are moving on with their lives and the bereaved can 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.


expressing sympathy girls silhouette


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. Make an effort to 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 Guilmartin

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


Remember it is not what you say in expressing sympathy to a grieving person that is most important. The most essential thing is to be available.

All of us are busy and it is easy to let things get away from us. It is not the amount of time you give.

Just pick up the phone and spend 10 minutes on the phone if that is all you have. It’s okay if you feel uncomfortable, most people do.

The effort is so worth it!




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