It’s hard to know what to say when someone has died. But you feel the urge to say something to support and sympathize. Follow this guide to composing a message of condolence to navigate that delicate situation and bring comfort to the grieving.
1. Use the Deceased Person’s Name
Unless there is some cultural reason not to, saying, writing, and reading a person’s name after they’ve gone can bring comfort. It’s like they’re still here in our hearts.
2. Lead with Your Sympathy
Sympathy in writing is a direct acknowledgment that the person you’re speaking with has suffered a loss. It stays focused on the grieving person and does not try to relate their experiences to yours.
Yes: I’m sorry for your loss.
Yes: I’m so sorry to hear your mom died.
No: When I lost my dog, I lost my best friend. I imagine you feel the same about your mom.
3. Say Something Nice
Even if you didn’t like the deceased person, it’s proper etiquette to say something nice about them right after they’ve passed. If you think hard enough, you can think of something that sounds believable. And of course, if you knew and loved this person too, it’s easier to find something.
If you didn’t know the person, you might say "I heard such good things about them". If you can’t say this with good conscience, just leave this part out.
4. Add a Personal Detail
If you knew the deceased, mention something special about them that might bring the grieving person joy in their sorrow. This shows that you’ve thought out your message.
5. Use Language the Grieving Would Use
Some people say "died". Others say "passed away", "transitioned", or they may have a specific cultural-religious way to refer to death. While you are trying to be direct, it’s okay to use this alternate term in your message if the recipient would.
6. Point Out the Recipients’ Strength and Resilience
After losing someone, the grieving person may feel lost, hopeless, and suddenly alone. So next, remind them of a personal strength that will help them get through this.
"Even in difficult times, I’ve always known you to… be resilient, see the glass as half full, see the silver lining, have faith that it’s all in the plan, persevere."
Choose one. You don’t need multiples.
7. Share a Memory
While you shouldn’t relate this loss to yourself too early in the message, after the above is expressed, it is okay to make this about you. Better yet, if you have a good memory of you, the grieving, and the deceased, you can start with.: "The other day I was thinking about when we all…"
8. Offer Support
You should say this directly. "If there is anything I can do, please let me know."
But if this is a person who doesn’t let other people help them, say something like, "You’ve always been there for me. And now, I want to do anything I can to help you."
Only say that if it’s true and you can follow through. The last thing you want to do is sound disingenuous.
9. Use a Sympathetic Closing
When signing-off, you might say the following before your name:
- With love.
- Thinking of you.
- I’m here if you want to talk.