Is it Appropriate to Say, 'Sorry For Your Loss'?

When someone passes, it’s challenging to know what to say.

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Liz Eddy

It can be difficult to know what to say after a person passes away. Because of that, simple phrases of condolences have become common, but they are not always the best way to share support for a grieving friend or family member. It’s important to understand what goes into a helpful and supportive phrase of condolences so that you can share love and understand when a person is managing loss. 

Here at Lantern, we believe every individual deserves access to the information and guidance that can help them to navigate the complex and challenging emotions following loss. When you register for an account with Lantern, you’ll have access to information on end-of-life planning, finding healthcare support, estate management, and how to support grieving friends. 

What to Keep In Mind When Sharing Condolences 

Grief affects each person differently. That means there are many different ways to share condolences and support for a person who has experienced a loss. That said, there are a few important things you’ll want to consider when sharing condolences to ensure they are as helpful and kind as possible. 

Remember, It’s About Them 

When a person suffers a loss, it can be human instinct to want to show them that you can empathize and understand their experience. That can also mean sharing your own experiences with loss. Unfortunately, sharing your own experiences can take the focus away from the person and center it around you, instead, even if that isn’t your intention. 

There may be appropriate moments to share what helped you through your experiences if they truly are similar, but remember to keep the focus on the person who is grieving. 

It’s Important to Say Something 

Because we’re often afraid of saying the wrong thing to a person who has suffered a loss, we sometimes end up saying nothing at all. Unfortunately, that can leave the person who is grieving feeling isolated or betrayed. It’s better to fumble a little, than not reaching out or offering any words at all. 

Avoid Putting Extra Pressure on Them 

A common phrase when a person is grieving is “let me know what I can do.” While the intention is good, it can often end up putting an undue burden on the person who is grieving. Rather than asking them to take on the extra work of delegating tasks or errands, simply offer up a few practical ways you can be of help, based on the nature of your relationship. That may mean offering childcare, providing dinner, or picking up groceries. 

Try Not to Solve the Grief 

We want to make our friends and family members feel better when they are hurting, so we often end up saying things that can come across as inappropriately light-hearted. Comments that downplay the loss or compare it to other, more severe losses can only serve to cause more pain for the person who is grieving and are best avoided. It’s important to acknowledge the death to help your friend grieve. 

Avoid Religion and Reasons 

Unless you and the person who is grieving share a common spirituality or you know that they find peace in religion, it’s best to avoid discussing it—or using it as a reason why the loss occurred. Statements like this can make the person feel like the loss wasn’t important and that their grieving is unnecessary, which certainly isn’t the truth. Respect religious and spiritual beliefs, but take care when using them in condolences. 

Each Person Grieves Differently

There are many different types of grief, and each person is going to respond to a loss differently. They may even respond differently than they have to losses in the past. Follow their lead when it comes to the grieving process in terms of tones, actions, and responses, and don’t try to rush them or make them feel better all at once. It will come in time.

Why Is ‘Sorry for Your Loss’ Appropriate? 

The phrase “I’m sorry for your loss” is an incredibly common condolence term—and there are several reasons for it. While you can always add personal stories or memories to your condolence, this phrase is supportive, kind, and intentional. Here are just a few of the reasons why you’ll want to consider sharing it with friends who are grieving. 

It Acknowledges The Loss

One of the most important things you can do for a friend who is grieving is to acknowledge the scope of their loss. While you cannot know what they are experiencing for yourself, it’s important to recognize that the loss exists and that it affects you all. That helps to give them the space they need in order to grieve how they need, without feeling like they are being judged or pressured. 

It Doesn’t Downplay the Loss

Not only does this phrase acknowledge the loss, but it also respects it for what it is. Rather than trying to heal the person’s hurt or grief, you are simply offering words of kindness and condolences. That’s important. When condolences look for a reason or purpose behind a loss, it can leave the grieving friends and family feeling confused or pressured to grieve differently. Because this phrase doesn’t downplay the death or try to find justification, it opens space for the person to grieve with you. 

It Doesn’t Center the Conversation Around You 

While this phrase does use a personal pronoun, it’s not in any kind of way that centers the conversation around you. Instead, it is heartfelt and genuine, without adding any extra emotion to the situation. The other person doesn’t have to comfort you or help you through your emotions about the loss, which can help to reduce some of the pressure that often follows grief.

Other Ways to Share Condolences 

“Sorry for your loss” is not the only phrase that you can use to show your care and support for a friend who is grieving with respect and dignity. Here are a few other common terms and phrases you may want to use. 

  • They Will Be Missed: This phrase can be used to show the person that they are not alone in their grief and that the deceased was a member of a community. It is also heartfelt and kind, acknowledges the loss, and doesn’t look for reasons behind why a loss might have occurred. 
  • I Remember When: Funny or cute memories that give insight into who the person was are wonderful ways to share your condolences. They show how the person touched your life and that their legacy will continue to live on in people’s hearts. 
  • They Were Always So… It can be helpful to speak to the best qualities or traits a person possessed as a way of remembering them and their impact on the world. It’s best to only bring up true and positive traits to ensure the condolences are heartfelt and helpful. 
  • Would You Like to Talk About Them? There are many different ways to grieve, and the other person may feel rushed to stop thinking about the deceased quickly. Ask them if they want to share any stories or memories they might have, so they know that you are there to listen and support them, no matter what kind of journey their grief takes them on.
  • Here’s How I Can Help: As mentioned before, it’s better not to ask a person how you can help since many people will feel like burdens when they call in the favor. Instead, offer a few options that are appropriate to your relationship and allow them to pick what they need. 

In Conclusion 

Sharing condolences with loved ones doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary. There are many ways to show that you are there to support a person during grief, even if the phrase is as simple as “I’m sorry for your loss.” When deciding what to say to someone after a person has died, it’s important to acknowledge the death, bring up happy memories, steer clear of centering the conversation around yourself, and support the other person in a way that seems most appropriate to their needs. 

Lantern can help. We carry a growing library of tools and resources for understanding grief and providing support and love to those who need it most. The end-of-life journey can be challenging and complicated, as can the steps that follow, and we want to help provide the information that will allow you and your family to advocate for your needs and know when to ask for help. These simple condolence phrases are a helpful place to begin when supporting others on their journey. 

Categories: Grief, Managing a Death, Supporting Someone Who's Grieving, Grief in the Workplace, Talking About Death

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