Words of Comfort and Sympathy for Friends in Grief
It’s difficult to watch friends struggle with the death of a loved one. You want to express your sympathy and regret, but how? What words can you say or write to bring them comfort? And what if you bring their pain back to the surface? (In reality, the pain is already there, bringing it to the surface doesn’t make it hurt any more.) What if you make them feel even worse than they already do? (In reality, that’s really hard to do.)
For the most part, just being there for your friend is a good start. Asking how they are, beyond the first month or so, is a meaningful gesture. Here are a few other things you can say or do to help:
The Best Words of Comfort
The best words of comfort you can give is to tell or write to your friends about your memories of their loved one. They will treasure your memories more than you can know.
Help others to share too
Even better than sharing your own memories is to collaborate with others others so that everyone who knew this person can share their favorite stories and photographs, then have them all printed and bound into a memorial tribute book that makes a unique sympathy gift for the family.
One way this can be done is using online collaborative photo book software such as the Mixbook photo memory book system, allowing you to create photo books without having to know anything about printing and publication.
Share what you’ve learned
If you feel the information in this site is valuable (see the Remembering a Loved One section for the main content), share it with your friends to let them know you are thinking about them using the links at the bottom of each page.
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
~ Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude
For further guidance, here are a few other resources on the web that can help you know what to say:
The Art of Condolence, by Leonard M. Zunin and Hilary Stanton Zunin
Time and again we stumble for words and actions that will reflect our feelings of compassion and our desire to be of comfort. Based on the authors’ extensive research, their workshops, and their professional experience, and filled with personal stories and anecdotes, this heartfelt, practical, and easily accessible resource covers the three most common areas of concern: “What can I write?” “What can I say?” and “What can I do?”
The authors address such issues as:
- Special circumstances — sudden death, suicide, the death of a parent or child
- How to compose a letter of condolence — including a variety of sample letters
- How to be of service — from ideas for thoughtful gifts, to assisting with business affairs and funeral arrangements, to suggested ways of helping in the aftermath
- When more help is needed — the benefits of grief therapy and support groups, with a listing of recommended reading and other resources
Don’t Ask for the Dead Man’s Golf Clubs, by Lynn Kelly
Coping with death is never easy. It comes at all the wrong times, to all the wrong people. Even the deaths of those who say they are ready to go are very hard on family and loved ones. As friends of the bereaved, what can you do and say to bring some measure of comfort?
Drawing on her own experience of being widowed at a young age, and combining it with the words of survivors who have lost mothers and children, husbands, grandparents and siblings, Lynn Kelly offers a simple but profound little book of advice. Don’t Ask for the Dead Man’s Gold Clubs–so called because in fact people will ask–is an invaluable guide to troubling times. There are four sections: What to Do Now, What to Do Over Time, What Not to Do, and the particularly difficult situations of Suicide, Stillbirth, and Miscarriage. The advice is practical, heartfelt, direct, insightful.