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In the past few years, I’ve lost several loved ones. I know I’m not alone in experiencing loss because I’ve attended other funerals with friends and family as well. I am always at a loss for the right words to express my sadness at someone’s loss.
I recently asked my friend and etiquette expert Karen Hickman what words are best to express at a time of grief and sadness. Karen has a new weekly column in the News Sentinel and she published the answer to my question today. Read it here or below.
Editor’s note: Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today’s world sometimes it’s complicated to figure out how to do the right thing.
Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays at www.news-sentinel.com. If you have a question for her, email it to email@example.com, and we’ll forward it.
Q. What’s the appropriate condolence to offer when someone loses a loved one? I ask because I never know what to say. When my grandfather passed away recently someone said “you have our sympathies,” and I thought it was the perfect sentiment – in person or in writing. Do you agree, or is there something better?
A. Many people are uncomfortable with what to say to someone who has lost a loved one, or they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. However, it is important to acknowledge the loss. Saying, “you have my sympathy,” or “I am sorry for your loss,” is very appropriate. Or just saying, “I am thinking of you,” is sufficient.
Avoid saying things such as “they are in a better place,” or “at least they are not suffering anymore.” The surviving family members may not agree with you and it can be perceived as insensitive.
If you want to say more, say something about the deceased such as, “Bob was a wonderful man and will be missed by all who knew him.”
If you are not sure if someone shares your religious views, tread softly with any religious-related comments.
If you are sending a pre-printed sympathy card be sure to add a line or two in your own hand. It adds a more personal element to the card.
If you send email condolences try to follow up with a written note, too. Again, it is much more personal, and many of these notes and letters are saved by family members and reread in the future.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy, LLC. Her web site is www.professionalcourtesyllc.com. Do you have a question for her? Email firstname.lastname@example.org,and we’ll forward it to Karen.