Giving Condolences: What's the Best Way?

Giving condolences is an act of empathy and love towards another person, and it's about accompanying them in their grief. But what are the best ways to do it?
Giving Condolences: What's the Best Way?

Last update: 30 January, 2021

Each and every one of us will have to go to a funeral at some time or another, either because someone around us died or because we’ll have to accompany a relative or friend. Whatever the case, giving condolences is a situation we’ll have to face when we’re there, whether that be to the family or friends of the deceased.

We can also offer our condolences even if we don’t go to the funeral (especially now with the pandemic restrictions). But what are the best ways to give condolences? Is it the same to do it by phone as in writing? What should we take into account?

We’re going to leave you with some ideas on how to do it. However, the most important thing of all is to act honestly and express your feelings sympathetically, respecting and understanding the pain of the other person.

It’s all about connecting with their pain and offering them your hand of support and sympathy.

At the end of the article, we’ll also give you some initial ideas on how to accompany a person in their grieving process.

A woman crying.

Different ways of giving condolences

How to give condolences? Firstly, we must differentiate between the various ways we can do it. It isn’t the same to give condolences in writing, as it is to give them by telephone or in person.

Giving condolences in writing

You may choose (or even have no option but to choose) this option. This may be because you can’t attend the wake or the funeral for a number of different reasons. In this case, you may decide to do so by means of a card or letter of condolence.

Condolence cards are images that include some words of condolence along with a background drawing, usually a set of flowers.

In the case of letters, these are longer and more intimate. Everything depends on the relationship you have with the person, and you may choose a letter over a card to empathize with the family of the deceased when you haven’t been able to accompany them during this difficult time.

You’ll have to choose one option or the other, taking into account the relationship you have with the person you want to give your condolences to.

Giving your condolences by phone

What about giving condolences over the phone? Although it may not be the best method in times of mourning, sometimes, we have no other option. Giving condolences through WhatsApp is usually very cold, so you should prioritize the use of the phone.

It’s best to express your feelings honestly. You must avoid using “typical”, empty phrases, and be as real as you can. You don’t need to say too much. A simple “I’m very sorry for your loss” or “I’m here for you” will express your feelings. This will also depend on the relationship you have with the person.

Giving your condolences in person

This is, perhaps, the most difficult way of giving condolences. However, once again, you should opt for naturalness, expressing what you feel with sincerity.

When you go to the place of mourning or funeral parlor to give your condolences, wait until there aren’t any people around the family, and when they seem to be reasonably calm.

There’s no “right” phrase in these situations, although, typically, people will often say things like “I’ll be there for you“. You could say this too, but try to add other words, something that comes from the heart.

We recommend (as you can also do on the phone) asking the person if they need anything, offering them your help and comfort, etc. Depending on whether it’s permitted in these pandemic times, and your relationship with the person, you can give them a hug, a kiss, or a handshake.

“Even if my words may not help console you, I hope you know that I’m here for you.”

How to accompany someone in their mourning

Beyond giving condolences, we often have to face an even more complicated task – accompanying a person in their grief. This doesn’t mean simply trying to lift their spirits, but, as the psychologist, disseminator, and psychotherapist Luis Muiño proposes, “flowing” with the other person and accompanying them at their own pace.

According to him, there’s no ideal universal technique to accompany someone in their grief. However, he states that “T he people who accompany those who mourn the best are those who have no previous expectations“.

What does this mean? It means that you’ll adapt to whatever the other person needs. “Do you want to stay home and cry? Then let’s stay at home.”.Do you want to eat? Okay, let’s eat.” “Do you want to party? Let’s go out then!

Although this may seem simple, it’s actually the most difficult thing to do. Why? Because it implies forgetting about your own ego and expectations. It means forgetting about the “techniques” that usually work for you and simply say “I’m going to adapt to what the other person does and needs“.

The “rubber band effect”

On the other hand, you can also resort to the so-called “rubber band effect”. This implies that you’re linked to the other person, flowing with them, but allowing them their space at the same time. Thus, when the person pulls you closer, you get closer, and when they prefer distance, then you move away.

We must respect the person’s rhythms, as there’s nothing worse than needing a space for solitude and not having it.

Someone consoling their friend.

Giving condolences: a very personal touch

After seeing our advice on giving condolences, along with ideas on how to accompany someone in their mourning, now you probably understand  that there’s no magic or universal formula.

Simply use empathy, and express your affection for the other person. Giving condolences shouldn’t be taboo, nor should it be very artificial or prepared in advance.

It’s all about transmitting to the other person that you feel their loss and that you’re with them in their pain. With people who are closer to you, you’ll likely want to spend time talking to them and showing your affection in appropriate ways. And that’s great.

With people who aren’t so close, we can opt for the words “I’m sorry” or “I’m sorry for your loss“, accompanied by a gesture of closeness like an arm around their shoulder.

Above all, you shouldn’t worry about breaking down when you’re with the other person. Crying and suffering are totally understandable emotions when faced with loss, and are part of the mourning process.

Moreover, they’re a way of saying to the other person “I’m here. I feel your pain and I understand you“. This will help you understand their emotions and the other person will feel that you’ve connected with them.

“When those we love leave us, they move from living among us to living in us”.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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    Duelo. El nivel primario de atención al doliente. Grupo de Estudios de Duelo de Vizcaya, Sestao, Vizcaya.
  • Pérez, P. (2006). Trauma, culpa y duelo. Hacia una psicoterapia integradora. Desclée de Brouwer.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.