September 11th, 2014

Grief Etiquette: What to say and not say

by Jacqueline Whitmore
Photo credit: Angie/Flickr

Photo credit: Angie/Flickr

The loss of a friend or family member can be an extraordinarily challenging time. For those closely related to the deceased, the pain of mourning is even more intense. Your support can make an enormous difference.

I reached out to my friend and fellow etiquette expert Karen Hickman, founder of Professional Courtesy, and we came up with the following dos and don’ts of grief etiquette.

  • Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s important to acknowledge someone’s loss. Saying, “you have my sympathy,” or “I am sorry for your loss,” is appropriate. Or just saying, “I am thinking of you,” is sufficient.
  • Avoid saying things such as, “they are in a better place,” or “at least they are not suffering anymore.” The surviving family members may not agree with you and it can be perceived as insensitive.
  • If you want to say more, say something about the deceased such as, “Bob was a wonderful man and will be missed by all who knew him.”
  • If you are not sure if someone shares your religious views, tread softly with any religious-related comments.
  • If you are sending a pre-printed sympathy card be sure to add a line or two in your own handwriting. It adds a personal touch to the card.
  • If you send email condolences, try to follow up with a written note, too. Again, it is much more personal, and notes and cards may be saved by family members and reread in the future.
  • Instead of asking “How are you?” when you visit a grieving friend or family member, consider saying something like, “I am glad to see you. I have been thinking of you.” It can be difficult for someone to answer a specific question immediately after they have lost a loved one.
  • Don’t ask a widow if she thinks she will marry again. That is a personal question and may unintentionally come across as rude and insensitive.
  • Try not to ask too many questions about the details on the cause of death. Getting too personal can be intrusive. Family and friends will share what they want you to know.
  • Be careful in minimizing someone’s grief just because they lost a loved one who was elderly.
  • Instead of saying, “Call me if I can do something for you,” take the initiative and just do it. Someone who is grieving doesn’t want to have to make any more decisions than they absolutely have to and they probably won’t call you. Offer to take the person out to lunch or to a movie. Your kind friendship will be remembered and will mean more than you know.
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One Response to “Grief Etiquette: What to say and not say”

  1. Karen Hickman on September 11th, 2014 9:33 am

    Thank you for inviting me to contribute to this article, Jacqueline. I do appreciate it.

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