What to Say: Top 10 Condolence Messages (VIDEO)
What is Grief?
Grief is the emotional and physical reaction to loss. This is especially pronounced when a loved one dies.
We react to this type of loss with sorrow deep within our hearts and minds, upsetting the normal thoughts and feelings we are used to experiencing.
The grief response to the loss of a loved one can be so powerful that it affects the body, too, resulting in fatigue or sleeplessness, headaches and appetite loss, and much more.
Read on to learn all about how grief can affect you or someone you care about, and ways to find help, support, and healing.
The Grieving Process
Types of Grief
There are many ways people respond to loss. Learn about the 16 types of grief and find tips on how to cope in your situation - or how to help a friend.
Common types of grief include:
Stages of Grief
Professionals have proposed several "models" of how grief works. The most famous by far is the Kübler-Ross theory of The 5 Stages of Grief, published in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
These five stages are:
Since then, others have developed the model further and proposed alternate ways of understanding how humans process grief.
Learn more about the grieving process.
Symptoms of Grief
Grief symptoms will vary depending on the person, the nature and relationship of the loss, and other physical, emotional, and situational factors.
Primarily, symptoms are shown emotionally and also physically.
- Shock or disbelief
- Inability to stop crying
- Fear and worry
- Relief (and guilt for feeling relief)
- Increased blood pressure
- Heart palpitations
- Headaches and nausea
- Appetite and weight changes
- Tiredness / fatigue
- Weakened immune system
Learn more about the symptoms of grief and what grieving can do to your body.
Duration of Grief
"How long does grief last?" This is one of the most common questions people have about the grieving process.
The honest answer is: It depends.
A quick generalization is: You will likely grieve strongly for several months, perhaps a year or more. Over time, the immediate, gut-wrenching pain will subside as you process and learn to live with the loss.
But the reality is: Each person processes grief differently, and the impact from death of a loved one will always be with you in some sense.
Read our Grief Timeline for a more thorough answer to this important question.
Allowing friends and family members to show their support is imperative. While you can and should have alone time to process your thoughts and mourn in private, grief is not something you should carry on your own. Let others in - they love you, and want to help.
Other options for grief support include:
- Support groups
- Pastoral care
Read more about your options for counseling and support here.
10 Meaningful Ways to Express Sympathy
1. Offer condolences
Even if you feel awkward or aren't sure what to say, say something. By doing so, you're affirming that the grief your friend is feeling is real.
It's a simple as saying, "My condolences to you in this difficult time." Here are more ways to say it.
2. Send flowers
It's traditional, and sure, maybe a little stereotypical, but there's a reason why everyone sends flowers to honor a departed loved one.
You can send flowers for the funeral, directly to the grieving family to express your sympathies, or send a memorial gift instead of flowers.
3. Attend the funeral
Be sure to attend the funeral or memorial service. This sends a signal to those who grieve that you care enough to sacrifice your time in order to be there for them.
4. Bring a meal
This one is easy to do, and means a lot to the recipient.
Here's our guide on making and delivering sympathy meals to your grieving friend.
5. Send a sympathy gift
Bring a small gift if you're able to visit, but if you can't be there in person, send something.
This could be anything from food and practical items to something creatively personalized as a memorial keepsake.
Whatever you give, put some thought into it to make it sweet and meaningful. Here are 29 of our favorite sympathy gifts.
6. Offer to help
The trick here is to be specific. Do not say, "Let me know if you need anything," because, of course, they won't.
Instead, say, "I'll be in your part of town Monday, can I watch the kids or run an errand for you?" or "My husband has a riding lawn mower and wanted to know if you'd like the lawn mowed, since we know Gary always did that."
Here are 83 very specific ways to offer help and provide comfort for your grieving loved one.
7. Acknowledge their loss
Remember that your friend will still mourn long after the funeral is over.
Everyone else goes back to life as usual, but your grieving friend has had their world turned upside down, and will never be the same.
So continue to acknowledge their loss. Don't be afraid to talk about the departed person, and know that it's ok to say the person's name. When you don't, your grieving friend can feel as if everyone is "ghosting" the loved one, pretending they never existed.
Instead, check up on your friend. Ask how they're doing, share a memory of their loved one with them, let them know you miss him or her, too. This will mean a lot.
8. Pray for them
This one isn't very popular to recommend anymore, but your grieving friend will understand and appreciate the authenticity of your faith expressed in prayers on their behalf.
Here are 50 comforting sympathy prayers you can pray with and for them.
9. Be patient and understanding with them
Everyone grieves differently. They'll have good and bad days; times where they want company and other times they need to be alone.
Go with the flow, and don't get easily offended. Be understanding of where they are in the grieving process.
At the same time, do what you can to encourage them to grieve in healthy ways, grow, and avoid being complacent. Here are 22 tips to help you care for someone who is grieving.
10. Just be present
Truly be there for the grieving person. Be ready by phone or text to offer support, and also be ready to drop what you're doing and head over at a moment's notice.
Show up with a coffee or some fresh baked goods, hang around and be present. Listen to them if they want to talk, and don't try to fix anything. Let them grieve.
If they need to take a nap, sit on the couch and read a book or bring your laptop and get some work done. If they have kids, babysit or take them somewhere (and remember that kids grieve, too).
Don't be pushy and remember to give space as they need it. But your presence can be a genuine comfort during this difficult time.
Best & Worst Things to Say
What to say
- Tip: Say the decedent's name. (Here's why)
- One of my favorite memories of [name] is...
- You can cry.
- I don't know what to say. Just know that I love you and am here for you.
- What can I do to help you right now?
What to avoid saying
- I know what you're feeling.
- Life goes on.
- Be brave. Be strong. Hang in there.
- God wanted another angel in heaven.
- When my wife's uncle died...
- You can always have another child.
Here are 101 condolence messages for you to say at the funeral, in a text, or in a sympathy card.