Don't Be Caught Dead Without This

How to Express Condolences
(without sounding like a sympathy card)

Finding the right way to express condolences can be a challenge, to say the least. However, whether it’s by offering a few kind words or by volunteering your help, there are many ways for expressing condolences and showing support. There are also ways NOT to express condolences.

We offer a few examples of what to say, what not to say, and what you really shouldn’t say. Thanks to the friends who offered their own experiences for this blog.

What To Say

How are you doing?

Especially in person, this simple question will be a welcome reprieve from the likely avalanche of sentiments they will most likely be hearing. It gives them an easy choice to express their emotions, or if they’re not ready, give a polite thank-you. What’s important is that you really listen.

We cannot begin to imagine what you are feeling but know that I am here to help with [errands, cooking/meals, chores]

Grieving the loss of a loved one will undoubtedly cause a person’s daily life to turn completely upside-down. From their daily tasks and chores to basic necessities such as grocery shopping and cooking, ensuring they can feel allowed to process and grieve is essential. Be as specific as possible with your offers “May I drop off dinner on Monday?”

What an amazing person and what a remarkable life. I feel so lucky that I got to know [name].

This is a lovely way to express yourself and a perfect way to gauge their immediate state of mind before continuing the conversation. If they are ready, feel free to share some stories or some of your favorite memories.

I know I can’t make your pain go away, but I want you to know I’m here with a shoulder or an ear or anything else you need.

This shows that you are here, and you’re ready to listen or help them in any way you can. It expresses that you care without being too intrusive or preachy. Depending on the response, suggest a few ways you can help in the short term. Again, be specific and don’t burden them with idea creation.

What You Shouldn’t Say

I’m sorry for your loss/My condolences

You’ve probably said this before, and we understand the sentiment. Despite the dozens of articles suggesting this, we feel like this is broadcasting that you don’t really know what to say or do. If you want to show them you really care, you can probably do better. Better to say, “I know this is a tough time for you and am sorry.”

My thoughts and prayers are with you

Despite the wide use of this phrase traditionally, it has quickly become a rubber stamp sentiment popularized by the media and politicians in the wake of terrible tragedies. While not necessarily an empty phrase, it will be added to the avalanche of Facebook posts they will see for the coming days and weeks ahead. If you’re not just a Facebook friend or colleague, you can raise the bar and express something more meaningful. If you know the person is of faith, say something like “I am praying that your memories help you heal”.

I know how you feel

While you may intend to express your sympathies by relating to them, this probably isn’t the way to do it. You will never truly know how they feel, and each person’s loss and grief is unique. They lost someone special to them. You shouldn’t turn it around to lead into your own experiences.

[Name] is in a better place

This is another completely common and acceptable thing to say, but consider that they just lost someone they love and they desperately want to be with them. In the short term, most would agree that their loved one should be by their side, in this place. However, if they say it first, you should heartily agree.

This happened for a reason

While they may indeed be in a better place, and the death of their loved one may have happened for a reason, this assertion depends on their religious or metaphysical beliefs (and no, this isn’t the time to convince them of your own beliefs). In addition, consider this statement and whether it will comfort them.

Many times, just being present and OK with silence is a great comfort to those who are grieving.

What You REALLY Shouldn’t Say (these, too, are real life examples)

If my hug was strong enough to take away your pain, I would start now and never stop

This doesn’t really need an explanation. Just please don’t say this.

Death is something all of us are bound to face

You should not use logic like this to help comfort someone. It sounds like a lecture and will never land well.

At least they’re out of their misery/pain

To most people, this will sound like you are devaluing their passing, and many will liken it to an animal. There are many more reasons, but just trust us on this one. This is common, and always comes across as if the speaker is really uncomfortable and has no idea what to say.

I hope you find strength in this tough time

The “in this tough time” part of this sounds copied straight from a sympathy card. While it’s not the worst thing to say, it sounds very impersonal.

What’s going to happen to his car?

We are not even commenting on this one.

When the shock, stress, and flurry of activity wears off, the intensely personal journey that is grief will inevitably begin. Some people appreciate support right away. For others, a little time is helpful. Pay close attention to their emotional cues and act accordingly—being present and empathetic is best. The last thing you want is to make the situation about you.

One of the best ways you can relieve at least some of the stress on loved ones upon your death is to make sure all of your end-of-life plans including funeral pre planning, end of life medical decisions and legal plans such as estate planning, power of attorney and final will and testament are in order.

Have you heard expressions of sympathy and condolences that make you cringe? Vote or add your own!


Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne

Steve Byrne is the co-founder of Final Roadmap, a secure, comprehensive online guide and toolkit for end of life preparation. Steve is passionate about preaching the importance of planning. He is an entrepreneur and businessman. He has started numerous small businesses and has a track record of outstanding customer service and customer sensitivity. His volunteer resume includes working with hospice patients and adults with special needs.

Are You Prepared?

Take the End Of Life Preparedness Quiz and Get a Free Checklist

End of Life Planning Guide

Download Our FREE Guide: Prepare for the Inevitable