Advertising
Advertising

7 Tips for Writing Words of Condolence in the Digital Age

7 Tips for Writing Words of Condolence in the Digital Age

laptopwomanundertree

    I just learned this morning that two friends of mine (sisters) lost their father to suicide yesterday. He was about to turn 80.

    The younger sister posted their sad announcement on Facebook along with a photo of her dad titled, “My dad’s first and last selfie.”

    They are profoundly bereaved and completely bewildered. He was both loved and loving. Since they saw no warning signs, their minds are consumed with trying to seek answers to their many questions.

    The reaction to her post has been of course voluminous. Within minutes she began receiving condolence messages from friends, neighbors, and colleagues.

    Yet, after reading through them, I had to wonder if these posts provided any of the comfort their authors surely meant to offer.

    Advertising

    “Our thoughts are with you.”

    “So sorry to hear of your dad’s passing.”

    “Praying for you and your family during this difficult time.”

    In light of the enormity of their loss, these short phrases ended up sounding unintentionally hollow.

    And then I realized: they just didn’t know what to say.

    This is not, of course, a new problem in our culture. We have a long history of being uncomfortable and unfamiliar with knowing what to say to, and how to act around, those who are experiencing a tragedy.

    Advertising

    And these days, there is an additional complication: we are often learning of these losses from people we never physically see anymore, whose lives (if truth be told) we know very little about. Sometimes, as is the case with these two sisters and me, the gap is decades.

    The challenge is how to successfully provide messages of genuine comfort across the digital miles and expanse of time, through nothing more than words on a public page.

    I’ve counseled hundreds of bereaved people over the years. The losses ranged from pets to parents, homes to health…and everything in between. I’ve listened to their stories of how loving words of kindness and generosity brought them peace and comfort, and I’ve learned along the way what touches their broken hearts.

    The next time you want to offer some online words of comfort, follow these 7 guidelines for soothing the bereaved:

    1.  Use their name

    There’s a big difference emotionally between “I was so sorry to hear of your great loss!” and “Oh Margaret, I was so sorry to hear of your great loss!” It instantly personalizes your note and expresses more emotion. In this two-dimensional, impersonal space, connection is the goal.

    2.  Say more than one sentence

    Offer a bit more of your time and thought than just 4-5 safe words of condolence. Move past your discomfort and add a few more lines. It will stand out among the one-liners and have a bigger impact on your friend.

    Advertising

    3.  Keep your comments simple in format

    Shock, grief, horror, trauma…these emotional states slam the brain with tremendous power. The brain responds by shutting down several areas of what usually constitutes normal thinking. For instance, sometimes people experiencing these highly challenging emotions and states have trouble following complex stories or lines of reasoning. So don’t write a lengthy essay about grief and loss and the power of human connection. They need simple but sincere words. Try to include some of these phrases instead:

    “I think of you every day and wish I could do something to make life easier for you.”

    “We can’t imagine how difficult things must be for you right now, but you are a strong and loving soul who will somehow make it through this ordeal.”

    “I imagine you are just trying to get through the hours and days right now.  I’ll call you in a week to see how you are and offer my love and support more personally.”

    4.  Avoid (like the plague) saying any version of this being “God’s will”

    Even devout people can hear this very differently than it is intended when they are deeply bereaved. Remember that they are somewhere between being in a state of shock and having heightened emotions, so they may hear this as “God wanted it this way.” If the bereaved say this, you can go with it, because they’ve set the precedent–the fact that they’re saying it indicates that this concept comforts them, so you’ll know it’s safe to agree. But saying it yourself puts you at risk of making a hurtful assumption.

    5.  Clichés are worse than saying nothing

    As mentioned earlier, they can come off as hollow when you are trying to be sincere. Stick with phrases like, “I wish I could say something that would ease your anguish,” “We’ll keep checking back with you to see how you’re doing–we love you,” and “I’m always up at (5am or 11pm, etc.) in case you want to talk” are honest and supportive without being syrupy sweet. People appreciate that.

    Advertising

    6.  Avoid telling your story

    Strike any comment that starts with “I know how you feel.”  You don’t.  You can’t.  Every loss is an utterly unique situation.  There are contexts we know nothing about that change the nuances of everyone’s story. Maybe the flood that hit their house swept away the ashes of their 6 month old baby that died 2 years ago. Maybe the heart attack that the family says killed their son was actually a drug overdose. It only heightens their pain when you try to compare what happened to you with what’s happening to them. The best thing you can do is offer unconditional, nonjudgemental lovingkindness. Don’t try to compare your loss with theirs.

    7.  Be mindful of their grief as time passes

    Big losses—divorce, devastating illness or injury, fire, death—leave deep wounds of sorrow that can last for years. Everyone else moves on, leaving the bereaved feeling quite alone. Reach out during the holiday season. Drop a little note on days of significance (for my friends, it would be Fathers Day, for instance, or in a year, the date of their dad’s death.) Tell them you’re thinking of them that day. Those notes can help your friend make it through the tough times.

    If you use these guidelines the next time you’ve learned about a loss through social media, you’ll know your words of comfort are balm to your friend’s soul.

    Featured Photo credit: ID 1654808 © Pixelcitizen | Dreamstime.com

    Featured photo credit: Pixelcitizen via dreamstime.com

    More by this author

    13 Myths and 13 Truths About Today’s Antidepressants Attitudes Of Truly Happy People That You Can Learn 7 Tips for Writing Words of Condolence in the Digital Age How To Fall Asleep When Stress Creeps Over You At Night 23 Things to Remember If You Love Someone with Depression

    Trending in Communication

    1 50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life 2 A List of 100 Questions to Ask Your Partner on Date Nights 3 21 Best Tips On Making A Long Distance Relationship Work 4 The Top 10 Dating Apps That You Won’t Regret Downloading 5 10 Ways To Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone And Overcome Your Fear

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on October 18, 2018

    50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

    50+ Best Motivational Quotes To Prepare You For Any Challenges In Life

    Life is filled with highs and lows —happiness and struggles that will test your resilience and integrity, push you to overcome challenges and leave you with lessons that will make you even stronger on your way up.

    It’s the way you feel and think about yourself, including your expectations and beliefs about what is possible to you, greatly determines everything that happens to you.

    It all starts with your thoughts. When you change your thoughts, you transform the quality of your life. (Right, Nancy’s story is a typical example!)

    Below is a list of the best motivational quotes to inspire you to start your day with a blast:

    Quotes for self-assurance

    1. Don’t downgrade your dream just to fit your reality, upgrade your conviction to match your destiny.

      2. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.

        3. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

          4. The man who has confidence in himself gains the confidence of others

            5. You attract what you are, not what you want. If you want great, then be great.

              6. It’s not who you are that holds you behind, it’s who you think your are not.

                Quotes about positivity

                7. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think of what could go right.

                  8. You should never regret anything in life. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it is experience.

                    9. Falling down is an accident, staying down is a choice.

                    Advertising

                      10. If you have the power to make someone happy, do it. The world needs more of that.

                        11. Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.

                          12. Don’t be afraid to give up the good and go for great.

                            13. Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned from worst times and from the worst mistakes.

                              Quotes for work and success

                              14. Don’t talk, just act. Don’t say, just show. Don’t promise, just prove.

                                15. Never stop doing great just because someone doesn’t give you credit.

                                  16. Discipline is doing what needs to be done, even if you don’t want to.

                                    17. Work while they sleep. Learn while they party. Save while they spend. Live like they dream.

                                      18. The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire, not things we fear.

                                        19. Never apologize for having high standards, people who really want to be in your life will rise to meet them.

                                          20. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.

                                          Advertising

                                            21. Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, time will pass anyway.

                                              22. Don’t fear failure. Fear being in the exact same place next year as you are today.

                                                23. A hill is just another opportunity to leave your competition behind.

                                                  24. Don’t quit. You’re already in pain. You’re already hurt. Get a reward from it.

                                                    25. Hustle until you no longer need to introduce yourself.

                                                      26. You didn’t come this far only to come this far.

                                                        27. Be selective in your battles for sometimes peace is better than being right.

                                                          28 If we keep doing what we are doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.

                                                            29. You will never know your limits until you push yourself to them.

                                                              30. Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.

                                                                31. The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.

                                                                Advertising

                                                                  32. If your dreams don’t scare you, they are not big enough.

                                                                    33. If you can’t handle stress, you won’t manage success.

                                                                      34. Don’t be pushed by your problems, be led by your dreams.

                                                                        35. Don’t mistake silence for weakness. Smart people don’t plan big moves out loud.

                                                                          36. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

                                                                            37. Obsessed is the word the lazy use to describe dedicated.

                                                                              38. You become who you spend your time with.

                                                                                39. Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods.

                                                                                  40. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

                                                                                    41. If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.

                                                                                      42. Between stimulus and response is our greatest power –the freedom to choose.

                                                                                      Advertising

                                                                                        43. What comes easy won’t last, what lasts won’t come easy.

                                                                                          44. Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.

                                                                                            45. Work until your idols become your rivals.

                                                                                              Quotes about money

                                                                                              46. Formal education will make you a living. Self-education will make you a fortune.

                                                                                                47. I create new enemies every day, it’s called business.

                                                                                                  48. When you have a Million Dollar vision, don’t surround yourself with 1 cent minds.

                                                                                                    49. You can’t get rich thinking poor.

                                                                                                      50. Doing what is comfortable is rarely profitable.

                                                                                                        51. If you can count your money, work harder.

                                                                                                          If you find yourself feeling lost and frustrated, it’s never too late to change things up. Check out this guide:

                                                                                                          How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

                                                                                                          Read Next