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 Unique and Really Fun Date Ideas for Couples 2 Take Back Your Personal Power (Part 1) 3 Take Back Your Personal Power (Part 2) 4 When You Start to Let Go of Your Past, These 10 Things Will Happen 5 How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 24, 2021

    How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

    How to Say No When You Know You Say Yes Too Often

    Do you say yes so often that you no longer feel that your own needs are being met? Are you wondering how to say no to people?

    For years, I was a serial people pleaser[1]. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time, especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

    But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

    It took a long while, but I learned the art of saying no. Saying no meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. When that happened, I became a lot happier.

    And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

    The Importance of Saying No

    When you learn the art of saying no, you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

    In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

    Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey, considered one of the most successful women in the world, confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything.

    Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

    Warren Buffett views “no” as essential to his success. He said:

    “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

    When I made “no” a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success, focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

    How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

    It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say no.

    From an early age, we are conditioned to say yes. We said yes probably hundreds of times in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work, to get a promotion, to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

    We say yes because we feel good when we help someone, because it can seem like the right thing to do, because we think that is key to success, and because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist.

    And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves.

    Advertising

    At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we are feeling bad that we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

    The message, no matter where we turn, is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

    How Do You Say No Without Feeling Guilty?

    Deciding to add the word “no” to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say no, but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of no that you could finally create more time for things you care about.

    But let’s be honest, using the word “no” doesn’t come easily for many people.

    3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

    1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time, especially you haven’t done it much in the past, will feel awkward. Your comfort zone is “yes,” so it’s time to challenge that and step outside that.

    If you need help getting out of your comfort zone, check out this article.

    2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

    When you want to learn how to say no, remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it: who else knows about all of the demands in your life? No one.

    Only you are at the center of all of these requests. You are the only one that understands what time you really have.

    3. Saying No Means Saying Yes to Something That Matters

    When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else that we may care more about. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

    6 Ways to Start Saying No

    Incorporating that little word “no” into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

    Advertising

    1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

    One of the biggest challenges to saying no is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no will reflect poorly on you?

    Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

    2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

    Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because of FOMO, even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

    Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better[2].

    3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say No

    Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say yes because we worry about how others will respond or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose their respect. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

    Keep in mind that saying no can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way.

    You might disappoint someone initially, but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to. And it will often help others have more respect for you and your boundaries, not less.

    4. When the Request Comes in, Sit on It

    Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

    Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say no. There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

    5. Communicate Your “No” with Transparency and Kindness

    When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest[3] to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

    Advertising

    How do you say no? 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

      Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

      Clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

      6. Consider How to Use a Modified No

      If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” as this will give you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

      Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task, but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

      Final Thoughts

      Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

      Use the request as a way to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself.

      Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project, but not by working all weekend. You’ll find yourself much happier.

      More Tips on How to Say No

      Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Science of People: 11 Expert Tips to Stop Being a People Pleaser and Start Doing You
      [2] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Tips to Get Over Your FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out
      [3] Cooks Hill Counseling: 9 Healthy Ways to Say “No”

      Read Next