When expressing condolences, even the most eloquent people may find themselves at a loss for words. While you want to offer your sympathy and support at such a painful time, it can be challenging to strike a balance of sincerity and compassion in the face of grief. Here’s what to say when someone dies.
The Right Words
When someone you know is mourning a loss, you might feel anxious about approaching them if you haven’t planned what you want to say. Nobody wants their condolences to seem awkward or make the bereaved people feel uncomfortable. You also want to avoid saying something you might later regret, so do not start or participate in a conversation that could come off as flippant or disrespectful.
Depending on the situation and your relationship to the surviving family members, it could be appropriate to mention specific things you will miss about their deceased loved one. However, if you are at a funeral or visitation, there may be a long line of well-wishers waiting to share their condolences. In that case, you’ll want to keep your comments brief.
Saying something like “I am so sorry” may feel like you’re repeating a rote platitude, but that may be all the other person needs or wants to hear at that moment. Decide in advance what to say when someone dies. If you try to speak off the cuff, you might start rambling or inadvertently make an inconsiderate comment. For example, a statement such as “They’re in a better place now” may sound positive to you, but the idea that their loved one is better off without them could seem overly harsh to a recently bereaved family member.
Overcoming Anxiety Before a Funeral
If you feel anxious, uneasy or overwhelmed by the idea of attending a visitation or funeral, you’re not alone. The topic of death and dying is somewhat taboo in American culture, despite the fact that death is a natural part of life and everyone will eventually lose someone they love.
People grieve in different ways. Perhaps you are worried about how you will cope with your powerful feelings in a setting where so many others are also mourning. Remember, it is OK to cry or even to step away for a moment to compose yourself. Many funeral directors have gone through training to help people overcome challenging emotions, so it might be worth asking for their support.
Depending on the circumstances, you may even consider not going to the service and following up later with a phone call or handwritten sympathy note. Only you can decide whether missing the memorial is the best decision for your mental well-being. However, consider how you might feel a day, a week or a month after the funeral is over. Would you benefit from the closure a memorial service can provide? Could your relationship to the surviving loved ones change if you miss the ceremony? Will anyone be insulted or angry as a result?
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