How to respond when you're sorry for someone's loss

It can be difficult to know what to do or say when someone you care about loses someone they love.

How to respond when you're sorry for someone's loss

It can be difficult to know what to do or say when someone you care about loses someone they love.
  • When a close friend loses a loved one, it's difficult to know how to respond. It can be even more tricky to navigate with the use of social media. How much is too much? What is not enough? Should you give your condolences publicly? In a private message? Or should you offer comfort in person?

  • It's not always a simple answer, but here are some important things to consider when you're sorry for someone's loss.

  • 1. Are cyber condolences enough?

  • Social media outlets are popular, and many people send birthday wishes and condolences through them, either in public comments or in individual messages —public or private. It's not bad to leave condolences via social media, but they can also fall flat.

  • If you are close to the person and you express sorrow for their loss over social media, be sure to follow it up in person, with a personal written note, or another form of more active comforting.

  • And — this should be obvious — but if the affected person(s) haven't publicly announced the loss of their loved one, don't post about it yourself. They may not be ready for everyone to know. People need time to sort out their own feelings.

  • 2. Send something personal

  • It's best to send a personalized note when possible. Start with something like, "I'm sorry for your loss," or "My thoughts and prayers are with you," and go on from there. Set aside time to write a heartfelt note to your friend — and don't wait! You never know how much a person needs to feel your love.

  • Also, if you are personally acquainted with the person who passed away, jot down memories you have of that person to give to their loved ones. Memories are valuable to those grieving a loved one. Small remembrances can help ease the pain and help memories stay alive. It also helps to know someone else loved the person they loved.

  • 3. Give active offers of help

  • We've all heard things like, "Let me know if you need anything," or "I'm here if you need to talk." But these aren't the best statements to offer to someone in need of comfort. First of all, they likely don't really know what they need, because their emotions are consuming, and there are too many things going on — prepping for a funeral, out-of-town company, and getting the deceased's affairs in order.

  • Instead, offer direct, specific help, or just get to work. If there are children in the home, some grab-and-go snacks may be beneficial. Or perhaps they need someone to babysit or do activities with the children so other urgent needs can be taken care of. Ask if you can bring dinner on a specific night. Come with a few cleaning supplies and take care of some household chores. Taking a stronger action is better than not doing anything at all.

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  • 4. Don't use back-handed comforts

  • Don't minimize what your friend is going through by saying you or someone else had it worse. While sometimes it can be nice to have someone who really understands, bringing up your similar grief can be more of a burden.

  • Additionally, a NY Times article stated, "Avoid clichés, and do not use expressions such as 'It happened for the best' or 'I can't imagine what you're going through.'" Those words, while well-intentioned, can actually be hurtful.

  • Everyone handles grief differently. Some people need to be surrounded by loved ones, while others need time alone. You need to carefully look for cues to know what they need. No two people are alike. Some may be overwhelmed by responsibilities and extra visitors (which may inspire you to act as the bouncer at their home to keep people away for a while!).

  • The best thing you can do is be present. And not just in the weeks after the death of their loved one, but more long-term. Grief happens in stages, and after everything has settled down, a new wave of pain may arise. As you carefully tune into their needs, you will know how to help.

Wendy is a regular contributor for and does media reviews. Website: for victims of sexual abuse. Blog: Twitter: @WendyJessen


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