Condolence – Meaningful or Inappropriate

Expressing sympathy is an art – of saying the right thing and avoiding the wrong words. The value of condolence is sincerity, not meaningless words. While social media has replaced handwritten notes for many, sympathy cards are still being purchased, (about 90 million cards are purchased annually, with about 90 percent being bought by people over 40 years old). Many people are tongue-tied when it comes to expressing sympathy. It is best to avoid words and trite expressions such as: “He is in a better place.” “I know just how you feel.” “Your child was so perfect, God wanted her to sit beside Him.” “At least he died doing what he loved.” “At least you weren’t married for so long that you can’t live without him.” Saying nothing and giving a sincere hug is far better than repeating a cliché. A few more “don’ts include: (1) Facebook does not replace a condolence note or attendance at the funeral. (2) Do not tell the griever that you know what the person is going through because everyone experiences grief differently. (3) Remove yourself from the picture by not telling where you were when you heard the news or what your immediate reaction was. This is not about you. (4) Don’t avoid the “d” words like dead, died or death. Be real – that’s what happened. Do avoid words like: “resting peacefully,” “passed on,” “lost,” “expired.” Things to do and say include: (1) Share a warm or uplifting memory of the deceased. Coming from a stranger, this helps family members realize others were impacted by the death as well. (2) Consider:  first, an expression of sympathy, second, a word about the deceased, and finally, an expression of comfort. (3) A late expression of sympathy is very welcome; there is no time limit. (4) Send a note on a special day in the life of the deceased – birthday, anniversary, holiday. (5) Do something. Send food, walk a pet, run an errand. Any kindness is a condolence. From: This Life by Bruce Feiler, The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2016.

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