Make yourself available
If you're close, be sure to keep in contact with your grieving friend or relative during this tough time, even if you find it awkward or uncomfortable at first. Keep in mind that they need your support and are in a tremendous amount of suffering right now. Make yourself available to them and remind them that you're there for them. Keep in mind that the Holidays are a big time that you could be needed, especially if they are alone. They'll need someone to cheer them up or even just sit with them and listen.
Be a good listener
Allowing the grieving an outlet to express their emotions can be very beneficial to them and their recovery, just be sure that you don't try to force it from them. Some grieving feel the need to talk about the death or their lost one in order to cope. Lend an ear and let them talk to you without offering advice or interrupting. If it's just normal chit-chat, anger, sorrow, or fond memories, they'll appreciate this opportunity to let things out. Don't be afraid to show affection to them either when the moment is appropriate; holding their hand, hugging them, or even just touching their shoulder while talking could be of great comfort. If they do not open up right away or are erratic in behavior, be patient with them. There are many stages of grief and their mood could change at any point during their time of sorrow. It's best to be sensitive to their feelings no matter what and allow them to heal at their own pace.
Every day tasks, even such as cooking and eating, can become a major chore to the grieving. They might be in too deep of sorrow to be hungry or have too many things to take care of surrounding the death that they forget to take care of themselves. After the funeral or service, most people will have resumed their normal lives, but the grieving will still need your support and help. Food can be of great comfort to someone and take one more task off of their list. If they say they don't want anything then bring over something simple and small that is enough to nourish them but won't be a hassle.
Offer your help
The one thing people don't think about after a death is all of the arrangements, paperwork, and general chores that come with it to the grieving. They have to close accounts, schedule the funeral, make preparations for service, burying, go to their lawyers or attorney, clean house, and many more tasks. Grief may make it hard for them to take care of the myriad details after a death. Ask them if they need assistance or just someone to be there with them for this process. Help them out with paperwork, cleaning, or even driving them from place to place. You can help ease the task by taking some of the load or even just being there for them.
Assist them in seeking outside help
Offer to help them find a grief/sympathy group or counseling if needed. Sometimes the grieving may need to join these things to feel better and have an outside outlet with people who can understand what they are going through. You can also help them to find reg¬ular day to day groups or activities to join that will get them socializing with people and out of their house.
Prepare them for the future
Those in mourning will not want to look in the past yet or are not ready. It would be beneficial for them to have a plan for the future or something to look forward to. Help them plan things to take care of themselves, like pampering or even cleaning, decorating, and possible vacations and trips. The more things that they have to look forward to in the future, the easier it will be for them to accept the past.
Sympathy Etiquette in Different Religions
Protestant, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and EpiscopalianThe service will generally be held at a funeral home within 48-72 hours of death, where a minister will preside with assistance from the family if requested. The service will be open to visitors wishing to pay their respects. It is typically followed with a burial on the last day. You may send flowers, food for the grieving family, cards or a charitable donation as an expression of sympathy. Dark clothing is worn and there will typically be a meal for the mourners provided by the family.
The service is similar to that of the Protestant, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian funeral service in regards to a service for viewing the body being held within 48-72 hours after death. Mourners are expected to visit the initial service to pay respects. Following the viewing, there is a mass service held approximately three days later at the chosen church of the deceased or family. Following which, the body is buried or cremated. The same forms of sympathy gifts are accepted, including floral arrangements or food and fruit baskets sent to the home of the deceased's family.
Judaism(Orthodox, Conservative, Reform)
A service is typically held within 24 hours of death. A rabbi will preside and the casket is taken to a cemetery and buried shortly after. Only immediate family attends the service. After burial, the immediate family sits in mourning or "Shiva" in their home for the next seven days. A "Shiva Call" is expected from family, friends, and coworkers of the deceased or family, in which they visit the home and pay respects. Flowers are not appropriate for the Shiva call, rather sweet fruit, desserts, and other Kosher food gifts are welcomed.
The burial of the body is performed quickly with no wait time and a service is conducted in a Mosque. Muslims are never to be cremated. Typically, as to tradition, the eldest son is in charge of the funeral duties. Keep in mind that when attending the funeral service, men and women will be seated on separate sides of the Mosque, with the women's heads covered out of respect. Food gifts are an acceptable expression of sympathy, whereas flowers are not.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints(Mormon)
The service is within 48-72 hours and includes prayers, music, and a brief secondary service at the grave site preceding the burial. Those who attend the service are dressed modestly according to Mormon faith. Expressing your sympathy with flowers, cards or food is appropriate.
The service takes place within 24 hours of death. Hindus are always cremated and traditionally, the body remains at the home of the deceased or a funeral parlor until cremation. There is an open casket and guests are expected to view the body. The service is run by a Hindu priest with participation from senior family members, and occasionally other mourners of Hindu faith or guests that have been asked, though it is not expected. After the viewing, the body is carried to the crematorium, short prayers are said and guests are expected to leave as soon as the process begins. Following which, a secondary service with meal and prayer is conducted and the mourning will continue for approximately 13-30 days after depending on family. Guests are expected to wear white as a show of mourning and sympathy, dark colors are frowned upon. And an expression of sympathy gifts in the form of fruit is considered best.
Three services will be held within 48 hours of death: the first held at the family home of the deceased with a viewing; the second is held 2-5 days after by monks at the funeral home; and the third and final service is held 7 days after the burial at the temple. If the body is cremated, traditionally the first two services will still be held as normal. Guests are expected to attend the first service to express sympathy to the family of the deceased. Avoid anything red, from clothing, flowers, or sympathy gifts; food gifts are not appropriate. White is the chosen color for mourning and sympathy.
The burial takes place within 24 hours of death. The body is displayed at the home of the deceased or family of, in the coffin with the lid placed outside the door where visitors will often bring small bunches of flowers to place on the open coffin and kiss the head of the deceased. The service will take many parts, first the Trisagion Service: chanting at the funeral home or church the evening before the funeral service. This will also take place later on at the graveside following the funeral service at the memorial service. Next are psalms, blessings, Kontakion and hymns, scripture readings, prayers and dismissal. Following which, The Kiss of Peace and anointing the body will take place. A memorial service is held approximately forty days after the death and again after one year at the gravesite, with the same hymns and prayers and the Trisagion Service. Mothers and widows will wear all black for forty days following the death and close male relatives will not shave.
Sympathy Card Message Suggestions
During these tough times, even just finding words to say in a sympathy card can be a trying task. When writing a sympathy card message, what you say doesn't always have to be exactly the right words. All that matters in your sympathy card message is that you show you are there for them in a simple way. Before setting out to write your sympathy card message, take these helpful tips into account:
- Keep messages short; it is okay to write a longer sympathy card message or sympathy letter if you are close to the person in grief or the deceased. However, sympathy card messages are typically short and meant to be a kind word in passing as to not overwhelm the grieving.
- If you knew the deceased well, convey how much that person meant to you
- Use your last name when signing the sympathy card. Even if you are close and known, it's always best to distinguish yourself from any confusion that could be caused to the grieving.
- Acknowledging the loss is acceptable
- Don't tell the person how you think they might be feeling
- Don't write about your own problems
- Don't write about any debts with the deceased
- Don't include any judgments in your sympathy card
Writing a message for your sympathy card will be tough, but it doesn't have to be. Try out some of oursympathy card message suggestions out and see what feels right for you. The following sympathy card message suggestions are common phrases or words of condolences that you would typically find in sympathy card messages.
- "In loving memory"
- "You are in our thoughts and prayers"
- "Thinking of you through this difficult time"
- "Please know that we are thinking of you"
- "Our thoughts and prayers are with you"
- "With deepest sympathy for your loss"
- "Our hearts are filled with sorrow"
- "Wishing you comfort during this sorrowful time"
- "With deepest sympathy"
- "Fondest remembrances"
- "Grief is the reminder that we loved and were loved"
The following sympathy card message suggestions are useful for more specific instances, such as sympathy card message suggestions for friends and family, or sympathy card message suggestions for coworkers.
Friends & Family
- Dear ____________,
Our deepest sympathies are with you during your time of loss.
Words cannot express this grief. But please know that we are
here for you always.
With Love, _________
- In loving memory of _______, s/he will be missed dearly.
- Dear __________,
Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this complicated time.
We are so very sorry for your loss.
With love, _________
- Please accept my condolences on the loss of your _____.
Know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
- (Deceased) _____ will always be in all of our hearts and memories.
With Sympathy, ___________
Coworkers & Groups
- With deepest sympathy for your loss, ______(griever's name).
(Group name) ________
- With deepest sympathy, our thoughts and prayers are with you, _______ (griever's name).
From all of your friends at _________(group name).
- Our deepest sympathy to you and your family; thinking of you during this difficult time.
From all the staff at ________(group name).
- Please accept our condolences on the loss of your _____(deceased).
From all your friends at ________(group name).
- Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
From everyone at _________(group name).
Celebrating Life: Words of Comfort
Author - Jim McCann
Reinforcing the 1-800-FLOWERS.COM and Celebrations.com philosophy of helping to express, connect, and celebrate, Jim McCann balances the practical with the poignant inside Celebrating Life. More than just a collection of sympathetic sentiments, Celebrating Life serves as a catalyst for sharing profound affection, appreciation, grief, and love for someone who has died.
It's OK Not to Be OK
Author - Mark D. Lerner PhD
"It's OK Not to Be OK" is an inspirational read for anyone experiencing a crisis and needing to deal with it right now. Dr. Lerner takes a unique, proactive approach in offering help to emotional needs now, in the middle of adversity. The book touches on clinical strategies to ease the suffering process, restore function and lay the foundation for stability. It also shows you that being not OK is normal to crisis, as well as using these emotions and experiences to give the ability to thrive.
Healing After Loss
Author - Martha Whitmore Hickman
A daily collection of words of wisdom needed during times of grief. Hickman takes the healing process a step further with her book to create a place of inspiration, insight and hope during those ever changing dark moments in life. Each page is designed for those who are dealing with loss and need some comfort with each passing day. With 365 different passages and perspectives, there is a profound quote or description meant to touch everyone in their time of need.
The death of a loved one or helping express your sympathy and condolences for those grieving can be a very difficult thing. The one thing you should remember is that your expression of sympathy is comforting all on it's own and can be of great comfort for those who are in need. No one is ever prepared for the loss that comes with death, but you don't have to be completely in the dark. Below are some commonly asked questions surrounding sympathy etiquette, sympathy gifts, what's expected of people during this time, and other questions regarding sympathy.
Are flowers always expected or would it be appropriate to send a gift instead?
Gifts are commonly welcomed among most cultural and religious based services. Flowers are the traditional sympathy gift, but many families find that a longer lasting sympathy gift sends a longer message of caring. After the flowers wilt, it could become another chore to the grieving, so a lasting gift would be of both ease and comfort. Keepsakes, books, or an object of great meaning can be great sympathy gifts.
Should I send a gift even if there is no service being held?
Yes, a sympathy gift sends the message that you are still thinking of the grieving and are expressing your condolences for their difficult loss. Typically, the most common reason behind the refusal of a service is due to the deceased's wishes. The family and grieving will still need closure. Your sympathy gift will provide a form of comfort to them and let them know that you are thinking of them and supporting them through this time.
The funeral is over, but what more can I do to show my sympathy?
The time after the busyness of the funeral is difficult for the grieving, because everyone else has continued on with their daily lives. A visit or phone call could be a great way to let them know that you are still thinking of them and have not forgotten. Offer your help or support for any left over chores or tasks surrounding the deceased. Saving your sympathy gift or sympathy card until after the funeral could be just as appreciated as an extra remembrance that you are there for them. The mourning period varies from person to person, but the time after the funeral is an especially delicate time.
How do I handle the one-year anniversary of the death?
The anniversaries and holidays that pass without the deceased are often very difficult for grieving friends and families, especially the first time around. This is the time when the loss is more noticeable and can restart the grieving process all over again. Grieving takes time and can be a life long journey. Often, those in mourning are forced or told to get over it far before they are emotionally ready to do so, which can be damaging to them. That's why it's important to visit, call, write to them, or send a memorial sympathy gift to let them know that they aren't alone and the deceased have not been forgotten.
I was close to the deceased but didn't really know the family.
You should attend the service if you wish to, or send a sympathy gift to the closest family member to the deceased (widow, eldest child, parents) explaining who you are and how you knew the deceased. Don't be afraid to share an appropriate anecdote or fond memory. Those mourning will need all the comfort and support possible during this difficult time, and it could be of great service to meet another person who was involved in their loved one's life.
I am close to the grieving person but did not know the deceased.
This is a common occurrence and not one to be feared. Your expression of sympathy will be warmly received even though you did not know the deceased. When someone is in mourning, it's comforting to them to know that others are thinking of them and their loss. Be there for them in which ever manner you can. You can just listen to them; send a sympathy gift or a sympathy card. It is very appropriate to send a gift of sympathy in this instance. During the grieving process it's important to have the support and sympathy needed from friends.
Do I need to write a thank you note to each person who sent me a sympathy card or note of condolence?
Everyone handles this task at their own pace. Sometimes it is another difficult task or it can be therapeutic to the healing process. If it is too difficult, asking someone close for help is acceptable. Either way, notes of appreciation should be handwritten or a phone call will suffice. The important thing is that you have received comfort from those around you.
Should I bring my child to the funeral service?
This is a decision left entirely to the parent. Younger children may not understand what is going on and it would be acceptable as long as they are accompanied by a parent. Once they are more inquisitive, if you decide to let them attend, prepare them ahead of time by what is actually going on and address any and all questions the best that you can. Also keep in mind viewing and open casket services that could become an uncomfortable situation.
It can be hard to understand or sympathize with a friend or family member over the loss of a pet if you have not had the experience of owning a loved pet yourself. The loss of a pet can be very difficult on the owner and can sometimes even equal to that of the loss of a friend or family member. We all go through different grief experiences, but it is important to remember that this person needs your sympathy and support during this difficult time in their life.
For the loss of a pet, there are a number of ways to show your sympathy and support. Feel free to send a sympathy card, plant, flowers, or basket. A great sympathy card message can be very comforting to the owner of the lost pet and show them that you are there for them. Personalize your gift if you are close to them, and don't be afraid to include photos, a written memory, or a token of their pet. You can also help them with any tasks surrounding the death, such as offering to clean up the pet toys and belongings.
Just being there to listen to them can be help enough. The loss of a pet can be trying on owners sometimes and they will be wondering what they could have done more for their pet or just want to share with you about their pet. Let them express their feelings to you and share their fond memories. Just listen to them and allow them the space they need to get their emotions out.