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What are Some Ways to Give Condolences?

The traditional way of expressing condolences is to send a card or letter.
Condolences are formal expressions of sympathy following a death.
In many cultures, it is common to visit the head of a mourning family to express condolences personally.
Mourners may attend a funeral or burial to show their condolences.
Just being near someone in their time of need can be a way of showing condolences.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2014
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There are a number of ways to give condolences to someone who has experienced the death of a loved one, depending on the nature of the relationship to the mourner and the person's geographical proximity. Condolences of any form are usually greatly appreciated by the mourner and his or her family.

The traditional way to give condolences in many cultures is to send a card or letter with a few condolence phrases, expressing dismay upon learning of the death of the deceased, and the writer's hope that family members are doing as well as they can be, under the circumstances. It is traditional to address a condolence letter to the head of a household, although the writer may also send individual condolences to people in the family whom he or she knows closely. As a general rule, a blank card should be used, rather than a pre-printed card, and the theme of the card should be somber.

In the modern era, some people like to send condolences by email. Many etiquette mavens frown upon this, however, as email has a very casual feel. Written condolences should be handwritten on a card, rather than being sent electronically, even if the sentiments are exactly the same in both cases.

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Condolence calls are also traditional. In many societies, the mourners hold an open house after the death specifically for the purpose of condolence calls, allowing people to drop by to give their condolences in person. Some people like to bring food, flowers, and other gifts on a condolence call to express their support for the mourners. In the case of Jewish mourners, a period of mourning known as a shiva is held for a week after the death to allow visitors a chance to drop by and visit with the family while the family processes its grief.

Those who are too far away to visit in person but who still want to express their condolences can also call the mourners on the telephone. It's important for individuals to be aware that phone calls are sometimes considered disruptive, as they can interrupt funeral arrangements or prevent members of the family from reaching the mourners. When someone does decide call, he or she should be aware that the phone may also be answered by a friend who is handling calls for the family, rather than one of the mourners directly.

If an individual has been invited to attend the funeral, it is also appropriate for him or her to give condolences at that time. Many people also like to express condolences when they see the mourner for the first time after the death, whether or not they have sent a card. A grieving coworker, for example, many appreciate an offer of condolences upon returning to work, just as a mourner may be glad to hear from a friend when he or she is spotted on the street or in the supermarket.

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orangey03
Post 8

I never know what to say to a person at a funeral home. I have found that sometimes just hugging them is enough.

They have heard a wide sample of condolences all day long, and the words spoken don't necessarily matter. Sometimes, all they need is a shoulder to lean on and an embrace to envelope them. Nothing you can say will help their pain go away, anyway.

kylee07drg
Post 7

@Kristee – As someone who has received online condolences, I can tell you that they are appreciated. When I was grieving, I was looking for consolation in any form that I could get it, and I didn't care whether that was online, in a letter, on the phone, or in person.

I was blessed enough to receive all four forms of condolences. I won't forget the people who were there for me, even if they couldn't be there in person.

I think when it comes to condolences, it's about the spirit of giving rather than about the method. Just showing that you care in any way is good.

Kristee
Post 6

It seems that everyone is obsessed with email and social media these days. Just last week I saw that a local funeral home was allowing people to send online condolences to the family of the deceased, and this just seemed like such a distant way to do that. I guess it's good for shy people or those who live out of town, but still, it seems weird to me.

seag47
Post 5

@subway11 – Some people can express themselves much more eloquently and sincerely through condolence notes than in person. I have trouble formulating a speech, but if I can write down what I want to say, it comes out so much more easily.

If you are a better writer than oral communicator, you might want to send a note. I always do, and then when I see the actual grieving person, all I have to do is give them a hug. I don't feel the need to say anything awkwardly, since I've already expressed my condolences.

CathyMiller
Post 4

The appropriate way to show your condolence for a death is to express that you are concerned and considerate in your feelings. That is warming based on my experience. You should know his or her loss and to show that you deeply understand it, which is essential. Talking, helping her and even paying a visit to the funeral home is also great. It is also good to send a card if you are too far away to express your condolences in person.

cupcake15
Post 3

Subway11- I agree it is really hard to write your condolences. Sympathy condolences should remind the receiver that the person is thinking of them in their time of despair and even praying for deceased family member.

Offering condolences words of comfort like, “They are in a better place now and no longer suffering” often help.

The condolences sayings should be comforting but not too long. You don't want the person to feel worse, you want them to feel better.

subway11
Post 2

Hollyhock- I agree with you that offering prepared meals is very thoughtful. Often many people do not know how to help those in the mourning.

Some of the best ways is to show support by attending the funeral and including a condolences card.

Writing condolences might be difficult called because you don't know what to say.

hollyhock
Post 1

One way I wish I would have given to those who are mourning is in the way of nutrition. Studies show that those who are experiencing extreme grief have a lowered immune response and eating healthy is key to keeping well in times of stress. Grief can make even eating a normal meal difficult and appetites can really go down. Many people choose to bring cookies and cakes, etc. when in reality, these foods may contribute to the feelings of despair. Sugar crashes are not the most helpful thing, although you may mean well. Instead, try bringing fruit or vegetables or, if you are particularly close, a nutritional supplement designed specifically for emotional and immuno support. There are several brands on the net if you do your homework. These can be thoughtful gestures that bring emotional support in more than one way.

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