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7 Tips for Writing Words of Condolence in the Digital Age

7 Tips for Writing Words of Condolence in the Digital Age

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    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.

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    “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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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

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    Last Updated on October 16, 2019

    5 Powerful Ways for Building Fulfilling Relationships

    5 Powerful Ways for Building Fulfilling Relationships

    We all have relationships. We have acquaintances, relatives, colleagues, neighbors and friends. However, for a large percentage of us, many of these relationships are not fulfilling.

    They are unfulfilling because they lack real strength; and they lack real strength because they lack real depth.

    Unfortunately, in today’s society, we tend to have shallow, superficial relationships with others, and it’s extremely hard for this kind of relationships to provide anything more than faint satisfaction.

    I’d like to show you, based on my experience as a communication and confidence coach, how you can add a significant amount of depth, and thus strength, to your relationships and make your social life a whole lot more meaningful.

    Here’re 5 simple yet powerful ways for meaningful relationships building:

    1. Meet More People

    This is an apparent paradox, but the quality of the people you meet has considerably to do with the quantity of people you meet.

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    If you don’t know a lot of people and you barely meet one or two new people every season of the year, considering the variety of individuals out there, you won’t meet very often people who are a good match with you in terms of personality, interests and values.

    And since this natural match plays a huge part in building strong relationships, you’ll just as seldom have the opportunity to develop strong relationships.

    Conversely, if you go out a lot, you meet a lot of new people and you constantly expand your social circle, you’re much more likely to meet people you match up well with, and these people have a tremendous potential to become good friends, reliable partners, etc.

    This is why it’s important to meet more people.

    2. Talk about the Things That Matter To You

    A relationship becomes the strongest when two people discover they believe in the same things and have similar interests. It’s these commonalities regarding values and interests that create the strongest emotional connection.

    I’ve noticed that many people keep conversations shallow. They talk about trivial stuff such as the weather, what’s on TV, the lives of various movie stars, but they rarely talk about what really matters to them in life. This is a mistake from my perspective, because it’s the perfect method for a relationship to not develop.

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    Talk about the things that truly matter to you and give others a chance to know what you care about and what you believe in. If they believe in the same things and they care about the same things, they’ll eagerly let you know. Thus you’ll find meaningful common ground and you’ll feel more connected.

    3. Express Vulnerability

    Many people try to come off as perfect. They don’t talk about their failures, they hide their shortcomings and they never say anything that could embarrass them.

    This is all just a facade though. You may appear perfect to some, but you know you’re not perfect and they know that too. You’re only human and humans have flaws.

    However, by hiding your flaws, what you do succeed in is appearing cold and impersonal. You seem like a marble statue rather than a real person. And this makes it very hard for anyone to connect with you emotionally.

    Humans connect with other humans, not with ideals. Keep this in mind and don’t be afraid to let your vulnerability and your humanity show. This is what takes a relationship to the next level.

    Take a look at this article and find out Why Showing Vulnerability Actually Proves Your Strength.

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    4. Have Integrity

    Integrity, as I see it, is the alignment between your thoughts, your words and your actions. When you say what you think and you do what you said you’ll do, you have integrity.

    This is a crucial trait because if you have integrity, people can trust you. They can trust you to give them an honest feedback, even when it’s hard to shallow, and they can trust you to keep your promises.

    This trust is one of the central pillars of a strong relationship, both in your personal and your professional life. So, as challenging as it can be sometimes, always try to have integrity.

    Be honest with the people around you, even when this will initially hurt them. It’s more important for them to trust you than to not feel hurt. And always do what you promised. Even better, think twice before you promise anything, and only promise what you really can and you are willing to do.

    5. Be There for Others

    Another central pillar of strong relationships is support. Connections between people grow sturdy if they can rely on each other for support when it’s needed, whether that support means a few kind words or several massive actions.

    Of course, you can’t be there for everybody, all the time. Your time, energy and other resources are limited. But what you can do is identify the genuinely important people in your life and then seek to be there as much as possible, at least for them.

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    Your support will help them practically, and it will comfort them emotionally; which makes one hell of a difference in a relationship.

    The Bottom Line

    With the right mindset and the right behavior, you can strengthen a wide range of relationships in your life and advance them as far as they can be advanced.

    And with strong relationships, not only that you feel more fulfilled, but you feel more connected to the entire world. You feel that your life has real value, you have more fun and you live in the moment. An entire world of opportunities opens up in front of you.

    Then your task is to simply walk through the open doors.

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    Featured photo credit: Proxyclick Visitor Management System via unsplash.com

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