Sympathy and empathy are two emotions important to supporting those who have lost a loved one. In their own ways, both sympathy and empathy are the ability to understand what others may be thinking or feeling. Oftentimes there is confusion on what sympathy and empathy each means. Understanding the key differences and how they are used can help us communicate effectively. 


What is Sympathy?

Sympathy involves feeling sincere concern for someone who is experiencing something challenging or painful. Sympathy serves as a way to express compassion. For some, sympathy and pity are used synonymously, whereas for others, sympathy is judgment-free while pity may carry negative undertones. Simply stated, sympathy is a reaction to an event that happens to someone else.


What is Empathy? Empathy means experiencing, through one’s imagination, what another is going through. Empathy is the realization of expressions such as “walking in another’s shoes” or “seeing the world through another’s eyes.” The sharing of feelings is a key aspect of empathy.



The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy

Simply stated, sympathy is an understanding of another’s emotions whereas empathy is associated with the feeling of another’s emotions. Both sympathy and empathy are characterized by active listening and a desire to relate to another person and what they are feeling. Both are also valuable to show support, comfort, and care when someone is mourning the loss of a loved one. 

How to Express Sympathy

There are many ways to offer compassion to someone undergoing a difficult or challenging situation. Ways to express sympathy include to someone who loses a loved one include:

  • Provide food
  • Send a sympathy card
  • Plant a tree
  • Send flowers
  • Donate to a charity

  • Simply acknowledging the loss, whether in these suggestions or in another act of kindness can be a wonderful way to express sympathy and show your support.


    How to Show Empathy

    As empathy is based in experiencing another’s emotions, actions to show empathy tend to center around simply being there for someone. Ways to show empathy include:

  • Making eye contact
  • Actively listen
  • Acknowledging the feelings you hear
  • Choosing not to provide unsolicited advice
  • Asking how you can help

  • Do not be afraid to put down your devices and allow the person to understand that your time and attention is fully dedicated to them.