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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 August 15, 2018

    5 Reasons Why Tidying Your Room Can Change Your Life

    5 Reasons Why Tidying Your Room Can Change Your Life

    You step into your room and stumble upon something hard that hurts you, you have to tiptoe your way to your bed because there is not enough space to walk, your bed has huge piles of clothing spread everywhere, your table groans under books, newspapers, cups, and all other kinds of stuff, and your closet looks like a ransacked outlet store post-Black Friday. If that’s a common scenario for you, then you are living in a space that disrupts your ability to use it well.

    Your room is the place where you start and end your day. Whether you are aware of it or not, the physical space in which you live and spend a lot of your time has an important role to play in how we behave. Having a bedroom in such a messed state can have a variety of effects on your life. Our mind cannot live completely independent from our environment; therefore, keeping the room tidy, organized, and clean is significant. A straightened room with a made bed and pile-free floor will not only bring happiness and organization to your life, it will also change your life!

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    Video Summary

    Here are five reasons that can spark the desire in you for tidying your room to create change in your life.

    1. You will know what resources you have

    Do you find yourself looking everywhere for your matching bracelet or clothes when going for a party or out with friends? Or does it happen that you buy a pair of pants, only to find out later that you had a better one to match the shirt you were wearing to the event? Keeping your bedroom tidy will let you know what things you have – the shoes, clothes, jewelry, books, magazines, and stationary – that are among your belongings so that you don’t have to rummage for them everywhere or go and buy new things when you already have better alternatives.

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    2. Your thoughts will also be tidied up

    Tidying your place also tidies up your mind. It is suggested by psychologists that a messy room is a representation of a disorganized mental state. When one is tidy and organized it also builds into their life, helping them in everything.

    As Marie Kondo states in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change.” So, if you want to bring a change to your life, go ahead with cleaning and organizing your space and start a tidying marathon.

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    3. Tidying your room can save you time

    Tidying your room and organizing your space not only lets you know about the stuff that you have, but it can also save you a lot of time, since you will know where to find something when you need it. Now, when you wake up early in the morning, you don’t have to search frantically as minutes tick by for your special pair of shoes, your watch, or the blouse that you really wanted to wear. The start of your day will be a smooth one instead, and you will be able to make it out of the door to your work or college on time.

    4. You will be more social

    Would you like your friend to see your messy room? I would probably be too embarrassed if my friend came over and got to look at my room in a messy state. When you are ashamed of the state of your bedroom, it is less likelihood that you invite anyone over. On the other hand, when your house is clean, you are ready for company and are also more likely to invite or welcome someone over on the spur of the moment. Tidying your room helps in preventing the creation of a boundary around you; therefore, you will become more social.

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    5. Your health will improve

    Tidying your room also bring with itself some health benefits. When your bedroom becomes a peaceful and ordered place with no clutter around, you will feel less stressed and less distracted. This means you can spend some relaxing time before bed and go to sleep calmly. From studies, it has been found that those who have cluttered bedrooms full of their hoardings take a long time to fall asleep and their sleep quality is also poor enough that it leads an increase chance of depression and stress. It’s clear enough. Tidying your room will have a positive effect on your health and the thought of going to the bedroom would be a pleasant and calming one. Not just this, but a tidy room will no more be home to bacteria and viruses that can compromise your health.

    Conclusion

    No doubt, cleaning up a really messy room and streamlining your surroundings is no easy job but, with a little determination and taking a methodical approach, it is totally doable. You just need to get started. Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, one of New York Times Best Sellers, can serve as the perfect manual to guide you. Happy Cleaning!

    Featured photo credit: Allen Goldblatt via flickr.com

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