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Condoling Someone on the Death of a Loved One

Today we confront a difficult topic, but one that many listeners have written in to request: what to do when someone dies.

By
Adam Lowe,
May 20, 2007

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Today we confront a difficult topic, but one that many listeners have written in to request: what to do when someone dies.

Be Sincere, But Be Yourself

You may note that I did not use a euphemism like “passes away” or “goes on to a better place.” While you do want to be sensitive to those who are in mourning, one of the important things (in this case, and for good manners in general) is to be as kindly direct as possible. Sometimes, in our effort to be sensitive to those in grief, we may alienate them by being too careful, walking on eggshells, and thereby making them feel more distant when our original intent was just to try and comfort them. So the first piece of advice is that you should try to be as real and sincere as possible with friends or family who have suffered the loss of a loved one. This means that you can still smile and laugh with them, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, let them be sad if they need to, but still treat them as the person you know. It is important not to alienate a person in grief because you feel uncomfortable.

Condolence Cards and What to Say

For writing a condolence letter, your plain stationery is best, even though you can buy a card specifically made for this purpose. You should offer your condolences and share something personal if it is fitting, but of course be sincere.

You may say something like “I was so saddened to hear about the death of your grandmother. I remember spending time with you at her home; how she loved playing scrabble with us on rainy days, and took particular pride when we ate ourselves silly on her wonderful cookies. She was a truly warm and genuine person, and I offer you my deepest condolences for your loss.” I have a full episode about What to Say When Someone Dies, and you can use it as a reference.

The Etiquette of Sending Flowers and Donations

You may also consider a tribute in memory of someone who has died. This is a very nice way to honor and remember someone. Most charities will make it easy to make a memorial contribution, and will send a note informing the family of the donation. You might consider making a donation that would have been meaningful to the person who died. For a list of highly rated charitable organizations, you can visit www.charitynavigator.org, www.charitywatch.org, or www.give.org. Sometimes the family will specify a charity in lieu of flowers.

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