Losing a loved one is a difficult experience. Times of death are painful, filled with sorrow, and it seems that there are no words to properly express our sympathy to a friend during these hard times.

Have you ever been uncomfortable when speaking with a friend who lost a loved one, feeling unsure of what to say? One of the reasons why people are so  uncomfortable is because we’re unsure of what to say or what to do. However, while death may be an extremely uncomfortable topic, the worst thing we can do is  ignore it when it occurs in the family of a friend or colleague. It is important to acknowledge the death, avoidance or doing nothing, is not good etiquette.

We’re here to help  you navigate such uncertain times. Read on for guidance on what to say or do during times when someone you care for loses a loved one.

Offering Condolences

Whether you call, send a card or flowers, or visit, the important thing is to make a gesture that lets the family know you’re thinking of them and share their sorrow. Because expressions of sympathy are too personal to follow a set form, be guided by the following tips:

Say what you truly feel. A sincere line expressing the genuine feeling you had for the deceased is all you need to say or write.
If you are so included, offer a special memory or share how their loved one has positively affected your life.
Avoid discussing the details of an illness or the manner of death.
Ask if there is something you can do to help, even suggesting something specific, such as “Please let me know if I can help prepare meals for the family, or provide childcare.”

Responding to the news

Be guided by the following tips when a friend shares the news of their loved one’s passing:

Refer to the deceased by name and acknowledge their life
While there are no hard rules in regards to the timing send flowers or make a contribution, it’s good to make this gesture to the bereaved as soon as possible–either to the house of worship or funeral home in time for the visitation or funeral or to the home of the bereaved. However, some close friends send flowers to the home over the course of a few months as a reminder of their love and concern.
When the notations “in lieu of flowers, contributions to…would be appreciated” appear in an obituary, it is appropriate to send both flowers and a charitable contribution. However, if you wish to send only one expression of sympathy, follow the family’s wishes and choose the contribution.
Be a good listener. Allow friends and family to talk about their loved one and their death – but on their terms. If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t pressure them. As a friend, our role is one of support with a focus on the survivor’s needs.
Keep in touch with the bereaved after the services; be there for them when they are ready, send cards from time to time (up to even six months after the deceased’s passing), remember birthdays and anniversaries of the death (these times may be especially hard for the families).

Mistakes to Avoid

Though well meaning we may be, be guided by the following tips to ensure that our condolences are truly comforting to our friend and well received.

Don’t dwell on the details of the illness or manner of death
Don’t take control of the situation. The grieving family needs control to help them work through their grief.
Don’t mention other people’s experiences. Let the bereaved focus on their loss.
Don’t tell a friend or their family that you know how they feel.
Don’t suggest the passing to be “for the best”, “a blessing in disguise”, or “what was meant to be”
Ladies, be mindful of our handbag, don’t carry a large bag on your shoulder that could knock into the bereaved when you give them a hug
Wear respectful attire: Conservative and understated dress is appropriate. Save bold color combinations, wild patterns, low-cut tops, and up to there hemlines for cocktail parties.
Don’t expect things to be “back to normal” in a certain time frame
If you’re very close to the family, don’t pressure them to clean out the deceased’s belongings. Everyone is different, and this is something that they need to do in their own time, when they are ready.

While the passing of a loved one is most difficult for the immediate family, these times are also troublesome to extended family, friends and acquaintances. I hope these tips will be helpful to you when faced with this hardship of life.


Have an etiquette question? Message us on our facebook page, or send an email, and Tanja will respond to the question in an upcoming post!