Understanding when and how to express condolences by text, instant messages or email can be difficult. When considering the most appropriate ways to express condolences, it is also important to determine if sending a text, instant message or email is an appropriate method to communicate with the individual grieving the loss based on a number of factors, including type of relationship, type of loss and timing.

Communicating condolences is not an easy task. Although many messages are communicated electronically, the first step is considering whether it is appropriate to express condolences through text, email or instant messaging to this individual.

Five Guidelines for Using Text, Instant Message and Email to Express Sympathy

When expressing condolences using technology, here are some guidelines to consider following.

  1. Express condolences through text if this is a normal way that you communicate with the individual. If you text several times a week with the person, expressing condolences about their loss would be appropriate. In fact, it might appear to be neglectful if you would choose not to respond that way. But, it is recommended to also send a card and/or attend the funeral or memorial service to the extent possible.
  2. If a friend posts on Facebook or other social forum about the loss of a loved one, it is important to remember that social media may not be the best place to inquire about the details surrounding the loss. Online social communities are generally an appropriate place to express pleasant memories and encouragement or support.
  3. Understanding the traditions and customs of the individual grieving a loss can be helpful. It may be useful to use social media outlets dedicated to memorials and memories. Sites like the National Jewish Memorial Wall are online communities dedicated to paying tribute and commemorate lost loved ones in a tasteful way.
  4. Social media can be a great vehicle for sharing good will and memories. Honor and commemorate the life and qualities of the loved one through both general condolences and uplifting stories. For example, a close friend lost a loved one recently. Friends, colleagues and family members placed comments, stories and memories on her Facebook page immediately after her death. The husband now has a page filled with loving expressions of tales and memories. This will comfort him for a lifetime.
  5. Generally, the use of emoticons or other graphic displays may not be considered appropriate. Mourning the death of a loved one is a somber time and therefore cartoonish images may detract from the respect being conveyed.

It is worth noting that when it comes to the loss of a loved one, many individuals are more traditional and old-fashioned, regardless of age or orientation to technology. There is an ongoing debate regarding the appropriateness of using texts, instant messages and emails to express condolences.  There are general guidelines when using technology to express sympathy, but many believe that social media platforms, texts, instant messages and email should supplement rather than replace a sympathy card and/or personal appearance during a time of grief. A personal visit during the time of mourning or attendance at the funeral or memorial service is a traditional and heartfelt way of expressing condolences. A phone call, personal sympathy note, or a gift expression such as flowers are common expressions as well.