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What NOT To Say When Expressing Sympathy

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Too often, we  say something, with no intentions of being ill-mannered or insensitive, but we are. This can be especially true when speaking with a person who is experiencing the loss of a loved one.

The often well-meaning, yet sometimes hurtful clichés and platitudes below were taken from How To Say Itby Rosalie Maggio and is an excellent resource book that gets pulled off my bookshelf often.

Be brave. You’ll get over it. She is better off now. Time heals all wounds. He was too young to die. Keep busy, you’ll forget. I know
just how you feel. Be happy for the time you had together. He’s in a better place now. He was old and had a good life. It’s a blessing in disguise. At least she isn’t suffering. At least you had him for eighteen years. God only send burdens to those who can handle them. Life must go on – you’ll feel better before you know it. I feel almost worse than you do about this. God never makes a mistake…….”

No, no , no. When expressing sympathy, avoid these platitudes.

Express your thoughts sincerely.

Share your fond memories of the deceased: a good deed they performed, a special story about them or an admired personality trait. Remembering what that person meant to you and did for you will be greatly appreciated.

Keep descriptions of your own grief to a minimum. You are comforting another. Err on the side of brevity vs. rambling.

Most important of all, don’t avoid the grieving. Show them that you care by attending the funeral, making a phone call or writing a note. Remember that they will need your friendship and support long after the rituals of death are complete and they try to “get back to a state of normalcy.”

Please share your thoughts and advice on this subject. We’ve all been there – on both sides.

Mind Your Manners,

Kelly

6 Comments
  1. I sincerely hope I never make a mistake and say any of the above mentioned in your blog. Once those words are out there you cannot take them back. Being sincere is the best way.

    • Kelly

      Victoria, thanks for reading and sharing your comment! I agree with you – sincerity is always appropriate.

  2. If I don’t have a specific story to share, I usually default to “I’m sorry for your loss.” I usually feel like a cop-out though. I’m going to try harder to come up with something more specific in the future. Good post, Kelly.

    • Kelly

      Jean, it’s always tough to figure out what to say. I think often in the case of expressing sympathy, just letting the grieving know that you are there for them is the best way to be a friend.

  3. Kelly, thank you for the gentle reminder that when we face someone during their time of grief, we need to think about what we want to express before saying it. I’m guilty of blurting out anything just to avoid the awkward moment (shame on me).
    I do recall one time when I attended a memorial service I had made eye contact with the grieving widow. As I approached her, I could sense her need to make a connection. With a warm greeting (hug) I told her how much I admired her husband who was a coach of the local baseball team. “He was the best motivational speaker I know”, I conveyed. She asked me to share that same story at the memorial service. Since public speaking was not my strong suit, I was reluctant but agreed to do it. After all, this was not about me. It was about comforting her and her family in their time of need.
    Again, thank you for the gentle reminder. We all need to be prompted now and again.

    • Kelly

      Linda, thanks for sharing that touching example of expressing sympathy. I also love that you said “…this was not about me. It was about comforting her and her family in their time of need.”

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