Dos and Don'ts of Expressing Sympathy

Dos and Donts of Expressing Sympathy7 24It is often difficult to find the words to express sympathy to a friend or family member who has just experienced the death of a loved one. Heartfelt condolences can bring comfort to those left behind, yet expressing your sympathy inappropriately may hurt the person you most want to help. Thinking through exactly what you want to say ahead of time can help you navigate through these times of sorrow and grief. Preparing words of sympathy may seem like excessive planning, however, knowing what you want to say and how to say it can ease your way during times of sorrow.

 

7 Ways to Express Sympathy

Here are seven simple ways to convey sympathy when comforting those left grieving. These phrases can be used in multiple settings when someone has died. They are kind and caring phrases that can be memorized and genuinely spoken in different situations.

One of the most simple and succinct ways of expressing sympathy is simply to say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” While this phrase has become a cliché, if you are at a loss for words, telling a person “I’m sorry for your loss” can let the person know that you care.


  1. I am so sorry for you loss. Your (uncle, mother, etc.) will be missed and never forgotten.

  2. __________ was a wonderful/caring person and will be greatly missed.

  3. My heart is heavy as I think of your (Mom/Dad, etc.) and the blessing (she/he) was to me. (His/her) memory will stay with me forever.

  4. It was a shock to hear of __________’s passing. I grieve with you over your sudden loss. 

  5. I am so sorry to hear this sad news. I will miss _________ and always remember the great times we had together. 

  6. Words are never enough at times like this, but my heart goes out to you during this sad time. 


Having difficulty knowing what to write in a card or letter of condolence? We have ideas for you in that regard as well.

5 Things to Avoid Saying

It is important to avoid saying the following as these phrases can be hurtful when that is not the intent of conveying sympathy.

  1. “I know how you are feeling.”  Perhaps say, “I can’t imagine what you are going through right now.”

  2. “Call me if I can do anything to help.” Instead, call and offer specific help in the weeks right after the funeral. Rarely will a person in the depths of grieving be able to pick up the phone and call you. Calling them is a better way to help.

  3. “Everything happens for a reason.” This may be what you believe, however, it subtly implies the person need not grieve their loss. 

  4. “You can be happy their suffering is over now.” When offering condolences the word happy can just hurt. Don’t use it. 

  5. “God never gives you more than you can handle.”  Ouch! This one really hurts. It can make the person feel that God obviously doesn’t know them if He thinks they can “handle” the loss easily. 


Reaching out to friends and family when someone has died can be difficult. With a little preparation, these conversations can happen much more easily. It is important to remember that the grieving person may be hypersensitive to the words of sympathy spoken as part of their grieving process. Hopefully, the ideas above give you some ways to extend condolences in a simple, genuine, heartfelt manner without unintentionally offending the grieving person.