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How to Offer your Sympathies Following a Bereavement


When attending the funeral of someone we know, the thought of going up to express our condolences to the friends and relatives of the deceased can often fill us with apprehension – it’s not exactly the kind of experience we go through every day. However, with the right approach it can actually be a very inwardly rewarding experience. Here are a few pointers:

  • The words “I’m sorry for your loss” can sound like such a cliché if not said with meaning. Remember that when you do express your condolences, it will not be the words that matter, but the expression and concern on your face.
  • It doesn’t particularly matter if you never thought well the deceased during his or her lifetime – you can try to mentally “bury the hatchet” and remember any good qualities the person might have had. If that doesn’t work, try instead to empathise with what the dear ones of the deceased must be going through, and let your words stem from that instead.
  • Draw on any experiences of loss which you might have had yourself – it will help you empathise with and appreciate what the dear ones of the departed are going through.
  • Remember you won’t be an imposition. We always somehow seem to think that the dear ones of the deceased will be so wrapped up in their grief that any human contact will just be painful. This will be certainly true in some cases (and it will be very easy to see which) but on the whole, those who are grieving will be very happy to see people have showed up to give them support in their hour of suffering. Try to feel your presence there as a source of strength for the mourners to draw on.
  • It helps enormously if you can talk about the fond memories you have of the deceased and the good qualities they had. Everyone who attends has different recollections which reveal a facet of the person’s character, and they all add up to give a sense of who that person was – it helps people to feel that in a way the spirit of the person is still there.
  • Some people are better writers than they are talkers – a heartfelt message (or a poem, perhaps) left inside a card may just be picked up an read a month or a year later, and offer powerful consolation when it is most needed.
  • Most importantly – act from the heart. Funerals are a time when the best in human beings really comes to the fore – our feelings of kindness, empathy and concern which are often obscured in daily life. Try not to analyse too much what to say. If you can focus instead on staying in the heart then this better part of your nature will come forward and feel the right thing to say.

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