A sympathy message is a powerful way that you can impact someone who is going through loss in their life. It’s a practical way that you can show another person that you care about them and are supporting them in an appropriate manner during a difficult time. The loss of a pet, a grandfather or grandmother, coworker, or other loved one can be difficult, and showing that grieving family your support is crucial.
In fact, showing your deepest sympathy and concern for someone when they are experiencing loss and sadness can be a difficult thing to do. When a loved one experiences loss it’s normal to feel as if you need to do or say something while simultaneously being afraid that you may do or say something that will somehow hurt the grieving person instead of helping them through their time of sorrow.
You Matter to Your Loved One
Regardless of how confident you may feel when tasked with giving your loved one a sympathy card message, the first thing we have to establish is that you matter. It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by a loved one’s grief and wonder if anything you do could actually make an impact. The truth is that you can make an impact and when someone you know is experiencing loss, they most likely will need the encouragement and heartfelt sympathy that you can offer them.
But how do you go about making an effective sympathy message? One that will comfort and encourage and show that you support and love the person walking through loss?
Here are some ideas that we want to offer when considering what should go into a good sympathy message. These are not hard and fast rules as loving and supporting someone experiencing grief or loss is not a science. In fact, it can be unique to every individual person to even a frustrating point where you can feel helpless because you just don’t know what to do. These basic guidelines can help you understand some of the dos and don’t of what an effective sympathy message can be to someone when they need it most.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
The most effective way to write a sympathy message that can be effective is to take time to consider what your friend or loved one is going through. Now, this can seem like a challenge if the situation is one that you cannot directly relate to.
For instance, if you have never lost a parent and yet one of your close friends loses a parent of their own, taking time to think through what that might be like can help you develop the right words.
This will also help you stay away from cliche, short phrases that while they don’t necessarily offend, can also lose any amount of power to comfort. For instance, the well-known phrase “Sorry for your loss”, is by no means an inappropriate message to give to someone who is experiencing grieving, but it can seem impersonal.
If you are close to the person you are writing a sympathy message for, spending a little extra time to make sure it is personal will go a long way. The following condolence messages are common, but it can be helpful to go one step further to make your loved one feel supported:
- Offering heartfelt condolences
- Sincere condolences
- Deepest condolences
- Sending my sincere sympathy
Stay Away From Giving Advice
When you are sitting down to craft your sympathy message, we can set down one guideline by encouraging you to stay away from giving advice as much as possible. Every situation is unique and every person is different so we trust that if you feel led to give a certain bit of advice from your past that your heart will lead rightly. However, as a general rule of thumb, giving advice to those who are grieving is to be a step that is to be considered very seriously.
Giving advice to someone during times of grief or trauma can come off as weighty, or even insensitive. For a person who is struggling with loss, many times they are incapable of doing much more than simply being present for the experience. By adding on to them a word of advice or direction, even if from a good intention, you may frustrate or discourage them.
This can be hard to understand especially if you have good advice to give them. We would encourage you that time is your friend in these situations and for the person who is experiencing grief, more than one sympathy message will help. So maybe the timing or the setting is not correct but wait a little while and check back in. If you feel like the person is a place to receive advice well and benefit from it, then give it but be sure to put their needs and emotional state first.
Don’t Be Afraid of Offering Specific Help
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
This phrase falls squarely into the category of well-intentioned. Most people will say because they merely do not know what else to say. That dynamic pressure of wanting to help but not knowing how and simultaneously being afraid that you will make things worse is normal. However, that doesn’t mean that it needs to drive you to a place of using cliche lines like this.
The issue with a line like this is that it can relate to little to no true encouragement. It’s a socially acceptable message and it is not the end of the world to use. We suggest a more direct approach when composing your sympathy message.
For instance, if you know the person in need of a sympathy message, spend some time thinking through what their possible, practical needs might be and then actually figuring out if you can help with those. This could be something as simple as specifically offering to do yard work, and even going a step further to set up a time where they can expect to see out mowing the lawn and an expectation that they don’t have to do anything.
It could even be as thoughtful as helping financially or asking what nights would work for you to provide them dinner. The truth is, a thoughtful offer of practical, specific help shows a deeper message than just the tangible offer. It shows the person that they are seen, loved, and cared for. Regardless of whether your specific offer is accepted or taken up, you can give them the comfort of knowing that you took special time and consideration to make the offer.
Expectations and Freedom
Everyone experiences grief a little bit differently, so acknowledging this freedom to your loved one or friend can go a long way. It’s normal for someone who is suffering from grief to struggle with feelings and expectations from those around them. The process of loss is a confusing, dark, and messy one and it takes a lot of hard work to walk through it. In the midst of that, it can be easy to feel misunderstood.
Taking the time to express that you are in support of their journey as it unfolds and that you are there for them will help them to feel free from any expectations of ‘how’ their grieving should look. Let them know you are sending hugs and caring thoughts.
Quality Can Encourage
This next criteria is subjective to each person but deals with the physical quality of the message. When someone is experiencing a loss or grief, tangible encouragement goes a long way to help promote the idea that they matter. This is why roses and flowers are such wonderful sympathy gifts. Not only are they beautiful and lift the spirits but they also speak to a certain sacrifice.
For a sympathy message, taking the time to craft a well-written short condolence message will indicate a level of worth attached to it. If possible, spend resources on this condolence card or sympathy note (both resources of time and money). A high-quality card or a beautiful arrangement of flowers can go a long way to brighten someone’s day who is grieving and enforce the true worth of their value and sad time.
This could even be in the form of a homemade message such as a gift. Regardless of how it is accepted, the fact that thought and intention went into it will help add to what makes it a good sympathy message.
Make Sure It Comes From the Heart
The last thing that we can say for what makes a good sympathy message is simply the motivation, warm thoughts, and energy behind it. The reality is that writing a sympathy message is challenging and it can feel overwhelming even. You hate the fact that your loved one is experiencing pain and you struggle to know how you can make the situation better when you send prayers or sympathy quotes.
Don’t overthink it.
You and your presence and your support are the most important things. Hitting the right amount of words or saying the perfect thing is not nearly as important as showing up and showing your love and support and offering your loving memories or grateful memories of the deceased. While there could always be a better way of saying something or a stronger timing, there can only ever be one of you. When your loved one is suffering from loss or grief, showing up for them and loving them is what’s important.