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Words Of Sympathy – What to Say & What Not To Say

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Words of sympathy

“Quiet and sincere sympathy is often the most welcome and efficient consolation to the afflicted. Said a wise man to one in deep sorrow, ‘I did not come to comfort you; God only can do that, but I did come to say how deeply and tenderly I feel for you in your affliction'”.  ~Tyron Edwards

Young woman comforting a friend

Words Of Sympathy – Dis She Really Say That?

” I get so mad inside every time someone says, “I know how you feel”. No one knows how I feel !!!

Blue baby shoes in front of a hamper

I lost my 4-month-old son, Seth, in January, and my heart is broken. He died of SIDS, or so they say. My life will
never be the same, I miss my sweet boy so much.

You would not believe the mean and stupid things people have said to me. I guess they really mean well, but I just
wish they would stop trying to cheer me up. One lady told me that I was lucky I was so young because I can have
more babies. Well, I don’t feel lucky, and Seth can never be replaced by another baby.

Can’t they just accept that I am grieving, let me mourn in peace and quit saying such hurtful things to me?”

~Cynthia T, White Plains, NY


Words of sympathy…

So many people offer trite sayings and meaningless platitudes to newly bereaved friends…”I know just how you feel, my Mom died last spring…”

This is NOT what a person in mourning needs or wants to hear. There are some very effective and comforting things you can say, and also some hurtful and damaging ones.

Words of Comfort for Times of Loss: Help and Hope When You're GrievingWords of Comfort for Times of Loss: Help and Hope When You’re GrievingWords of Comfort for Times of Loss: Help and Hope When You're Grieving

Read on for some practical advice on the subject.

How to Offer Sympathy In Person

  • Just be there. Even if you don’t know what to say, the fact that you are there does provide some comfort. Offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Not easy to do, but oh so helpful.
  • Acknowledge the loss in an honest way. Avoid euphemisms like “passed on”: instead, use the word died or killed. Example: ” I heard that your father died. I am so sorry for your loss”.
  • Be a good listener. You can not fix things, so don’t offer advice, or tell them how they should feel or what they should do. Just listen… that is what he needs most right now, quiet support. It’s called “therapeutic silence”.
  • Share fond memories of the deceased. Do not make his or her name “taboo”. The bereaved need very much to talk it out and they love to hear stories of their lost one. Be patient when they retell the same story over-and-over. Story-telling is part of the healing process.
  • Never tell them that you know how they feel because your cousin died last year. Comparing tragedies or losses is NEVER helpful.
  • Bereavement can make us feel helpless and awkward. It’s okay to be honest about it and say something like: “I’m not sure what to say to you, but I want you to know I care”.

Platitudes You Should Avoid When Offering Sympathy

Taboo words when comforting a bereaved person

Most of the trite sayings below seem to imply that the mourner should get past it or somehow avoid the pain of loss. This is not realistic or healthy, and certainly not helpful.

  • I know how you feel
  • It’s just God’s plan
  • Just look at all the things you have to be thankful for
  • He’s in a better place now
  • God needed another angel
  • She’s not suffering anymore
  • He’s at peace now
  • It was for the best
  • Life is for the living
  • You’ve still got your_____(other kids, spouse)
  • Don’t cry… crying only upsets you
  • All things must pass
  • She led a full life
  • God will never give you more than you can handle

Words you should avoid about time to move on:

  • Get a hold of yourself
  • It’s time to get on with your life
  • Pull yourself up by your bootstraps
  • Keep a stiff upper lip
  • You are so strong, you can handle this
  • You must be strong for the kids
  • You’ll get over it in time
  • You’ll be okay in a year
  • This will soon end
  • You’ll be fine
  • Time heals all wounds
  • Put this behind you and get on with your life
  • Isn’t it time you got back to normal?

And the prize-winners for mean and thoughtless things to say:

  • “You’re young, you can always have more children”
  • “There are more fish in the sea” (lost a spouse)
  • “Well, you need to be the man of the house now” (to a 12-year-old boy).[Yes, people really do say things like that].

Ready to write a comforting sympathy letter?

Explore our collection of unique sympathy gifts here.

I hope you feel better equipped to share some words of sympathy when you meet someone who needs to hear some encouragement.

Words of sympahty - what to say and what not to say!

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