Communicating After a Loss

It’s never easy talking to people after they have lost loved a one. Without question, it can be an awkward, sad and uncomfortable situation. But communicating after a loss is a skill that can be learned. There are ways to handle such circumstances in a sensitive and meaningful manner.

3 Important Things to Keep in Mind When Communicating After a Loss

  1. Spoken words will not remove the pain. It is always helpful to keep in mind that generally, regardless of what you say or how you go about communicating your words, you’ll never be able to remove a grieving person’s pain or sadness. Thus, you don’t have to be “perfect” when communicating with someone after a loss. Frankly, perfection is impossible. Your sole objective should be to demonstrate thoughtfulness and understanding. Your presence will speak louder than your words when expressing condolences.
  2. When expressing your condolences to an individual in person, always use words and terms that convey compassion and sympathy. In addition, it is also important to avoid overstepping any personal boundaries and create an environment where the individual might feel uncomfortable. It is recommended not to bring up the loved one’s death in a group setting unless the bereaved is ready to do so. Avoid offering sympathetic words of a personal nature in a public forum. Sending copies of the personal condolence email to others conveys an impersonal tone to the bereaved. Rather, when you have a conversation with an individual who has recently lost a loved one, in person or over the phone, it is essential that you are concise, sympathetic, supportive and open. The last thing you should ever do is sound “scripted.”
  3. One size does not fit all. Because everyone grieves differently, each will need to be communicated with in a personal, meaningful way. The words that would be a comfort to one individual might be hurtful to another. Keep in mind what you know of the personality of the bereaved, as well as the special circumstances of the death of the loved one.

3 Ways to Express Sympathy with Words

Let your words be personal. In communicating after a loss, make a point to use the name of the bereaved and the name of the loved one. Make mention of the relationship the deceased had to the bereaved. If you knew the deceased, share an incident or speak of the character of the deceased.

Listen attentively. Take an interest in what the bereaved is saying. Show that you are listening by paraphrasing some of the things that are said. Express attention non-verbally by having eye contact, using meaningful gestures, and having appropriate body language and stance.

Weave your words together to form a blanket of encouragement. The tone of what you say to one grieving should be positive. Mention positive characteristics experiences about the deceased. Be hopeful in your tone.

Here are some examples of how to speak words of comfort:

“[Name], I am so sorry about your loss. You have my deepest sympathies and condolences. If there is anything that I could do to help, please let me know. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.”

After that, you should listen. If the grieving person wants to change the subject, that is fine. If the person wants to talk about the loss, that’s fine, too. Your job is to be a good listener. Also, this isn’t about you. Don’t jump in and talk about your personal losses. This is the other person’s time. Let him or her speak or let the conversation end. (Not everyone wants to have a conversation.)

In addition, there will be some instances where you will need to communicate your sympathies through email or letter. When conveying your condolences in written form, it is important to add a greater depth of detail – so you can ensure that your emotions are accurately conveyed. Therefore, what you should write in an email or a letter should be something like (write in your own words):

“Dear [Name],

I am so sorry about your loss. Please know that you have my deepest sympathies. I know that you must be going through a very difficult time. I would like you to know that I am here for you and available if you need me. Let me know if I can do anything – in any capacity.

Again, my deepest condolences.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]”

Further, grief takes time to overcome. People deal with grief in dramatically different ways. Therefore, it is essential to follow up with them in a few days and see how they are coping. Ask if they could use any help. Continue to keep in touch with them in person, over the phone, or by email/letters.