Words of Sympathy and Condolence

Words of sympathy seem to come naturally to some people. They intuitively know the right thing to say in the face of grief and emotional devastation. However, most of us are at a loss when we search for words of condolence that will be meaningful and appropriate. Should we try to say something unique or just stick with traditional statements such as “I am sorry for your loss”? What if we say the wrong thing?

Examples of What to Say at a Funeral

Unless you know the bereaved family members well, your only conversation with them may be in the receiving line. Whether there are hundreds of mourners in attendance or just a few, this is often an exhausting ritual for the bereaved. So above all, be brief. This is not the time to regale the family with fond memories of the departed (sharing such stories is more appropriate at the reception).  Here are words of condolence to use in a receiving line:

  • “You have my deepest sympathy.”
  • “Our thoughts are with you.”
  • “We are praying for you.” (If the funeral service has a religious tone)
  • “We will miss _______ so much.” (This is more personal than, “He will be missed”)

Don’t worry whether others are saying similar words. Eye contact and a touch on the hand or shoulder are more important than eloquence.

Words of Condolence to Avoid

 “Don’t cry. He’s gone home to be with Jesus.” In general, statements about the afterlife (whatever you envision that to hold) can be unhelpful or even abrasive at this time. Regardless of whether the family holds the same beliefs you do, they may not feel like hearing reasons why they should not feel sad.

“She looks so natural (peaceful, beautiful, young, etc.)” Even when there is an open casket, making comments about the appearance of the remains runs the risk of being distasteful. However, remarking on the wonderful smile of the deceased in a photograph at a memorial service is entirely appropriate.

Sympathy Messages from the Heart

If you are sending flowers or a card, you have an opportunity to make a more unique statement. However, if you can’t think of what to write, you may wish to use a sympathy quote instead. Ideally, it should be one that conveys how you feel as well as providing comfort to the bereaved. Or, it may be a message of hope and encouragement. We’ll close with an example:

Like a bird singing in the rain, let grateful memories survive in time of sorrow” - Robert Louis Stevenson

Comments

Cathy Miller 6/10/13 6:58pm
Saying a response "thank you" when someone comes up to say condolence words is not wrong. In fact, it's the approriate way since the bereaved person is giving thanks to his or her relatives and friends. It's a simple way to say that "you are here for me and I appreciate your presence".
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Words to Provide Sympathy and Condolence

What to say at a funeral:

“You have my deepest sympathy.”

“Our thoughts are with you.”

“We are praying for you.” (If the funeral service has a religious tone)

“We will miss _______ so much.” (This is more personal than, “He/She will be missed”)

 

What NOT to say:

In general, statements about the afterlife can be unhelpful or even abrasive during the grieving process.

Making comments about the appearance of the remains during an open casket can be distasteful.