Dealing with grief can be hard, and when you see someone around you suffering it’s almost human nature to want to ease the pain and tell them that they’re understood and not alone. It’s easier to do when you’re close to the person you’re trying to express sympathy for, but it gets a bit tricky (and more formal) when it’s an acquaintance or someone you only know in passing.
Sending meaningful messages and expressing your support and understanding to someone is often easy though. All you have to do is be careful about not saying anything that invalidates their pain, and avoid telling them how they should or shouldn’t process their grief.
As such, there are also cultural and social rules that you can lean on and follow that will help. Here are some things you can do to offer your condolences to someone you don’t know well.
Accompany Your Condolences With a Kind Gesture
Words are great, but when you’re at a loss for them or there isn’t much to say – as is often the case with people you don’t know well – a thoughtful sympathy gift can be a good idea.
You can choose flowers, a sympathy card, offer to help with the funeral planning, take them out for a meal – they might not have eaten in a while, and might appreciate the gesture – or anything that you feel they would be comfortable with.
If it’s someone at the office, you and all your colleagues or team can get them a joint present – a single bouquet with a thoughtful sympathy card signed by most of the people in the office would be a good idea. In case you find yourself in a position to do so, offer them time off to grieve and recover from their loss. Tell them they don’t have to be at work for a week or two, they’ll appreciate it.
Acknowledge Their Pain
In some cases, you will find yourself face-to-face with a colleague, a class fellow, or a regular at the business establishment you work at who just lost someone close to them. The best way to handle this situation is to simply and sincerely acknowledge their loss, tell them you’re sorry for them, and treat them with just a little more kindness and patience than you regularly would.
People dealing with grief might feel like they’re stuck in their head and feel disconnected to the world, and it doesn’t help when people awkwardly tiptoe around someone going through this.
Talk About the Deceased
If someone you know just died, you can share your grief with someone else close to them. This will make both you and the other person feel better, and it’s still helpful to talk about them to the grieving person if you knew the person in passing.
Share a funny story about them that you know about, tell them what the deceased was like back when you knew them, share photos if you have any and they might not have – especially if they’re family members. These stories and memories are now very precious for the grieving family, and it’s always good to remember the deceased and remember them in a good light.
Respect Their Space
Loosing someone is an extremely overwhelming experience that not all know how to handle – sometimes all they need is some space the process what’s happening, and it can look like a lot of different things.
It can be that they want things to go on as normal, or they might need some alone time to process their loss and not be around people. If you feel like the person isn’t ready to talk and that it’s not a good idea, give them distance and space and maybe send them a small gift to show you’re there for them instead.
Things to Avoid When Offering Condolences
Loosing someone is one of the hardest things someone can go through, and it’s not something that anyone can control. The least people around a grieving person can do for them is to be careful, and treat the person with dignity, respect, care, and understanding.
But sometimes, mistakes happen and people can say the wrong thing. It helps to know what common mistakes you should avoid so you can keep yourself from making a grave misstep like that.
Minimizing Their Grief
In an attempt to make your acquaintance feel better, you might feel like you should tell them their pain is giong to pass and that what they’re feeling is not that bad or not a big deal, or anything along those lines.
It’s one thing to tell someone that it will get better one day, but it’s a completely different thing to imply that what they’re going through isn’t very painful to begin with. Choosing your words carefully when talking to someone in these situations is very important, and it’s even more important to remain empathetic and sincere in your condolences.
Not Respecting the Deceased Person’s Wishes
If the deceased person asked for donations to a certain charity on their death instead of flowers or any other presents, make sure to honor those wishes. You can bring the flowers if you’ve already done what you wanted to, but ignoring the deceased person’s wishes on their funeral isn’t generally a good thing and will not seem polite at all.
You want to show the deceased person’s family, friends, and your acquaintance that you care. This means caring about what the deceased person wanted instead of doing what you feel like you should.
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