Sorry for Your Loss...But I Have to Run

When you call someone to offer your condolences for the loss of a loved one, you never want to do it on the fly. Here's how to to give this important call the proper time and attention. (Hint: Don't do it while standing in line for coffee).

Richie Frieman
2-minute read

I’m a huge Seinfeld fan. HUGE! In fact, I can’t help but relate many of my Modern Manners Guy articles to situations explored in this groundbreaking TV show.

One episode in particular I was just thinking about is when Elaine keeps trying to squeeze in a call to a friend who recently lost a loved one. She tries all day: on the way out the door, while getting a cab, standing in line - all just to show that she cares. But does she really?

Calling someone to offer condolences on the death of a loved one is an important call. You don’t want to have to say, “Look, I gotta go, a cab just pulled up. Talk to you later!” in mid-sentence.

For starters, you called them.  Therefore, what you're saying is that you have time to talk. Should you expect an hour-long chat? Probably not. But it is absolutely awful to bail on the conversation after 5 minutes because it’s your turn in line at Starbucks.

See also: Condoling Someone on the Death of a Loved One


Secondly, talking about someone who has passed away recently is a serious conversation. If you personally didn’t know the deceased, the friend on the other end of the line may be in serious pain from their loss. They may look to you as a shoulder to cry on, which is the backbone of any friendship. However, all that will be lost if they think you’re calling to get it over with. After all, you don’t want to be the friend who didn’t call, right? Right! But if you don’t take the time to really talk to the person, your mannerly attempt will have lost its merit.

We are all busy but that does not mean we can’t squeeze in 15 minutes – at least – to talk to a friend about their grief. I don’t want to put a time limit on this conversation, but just to be sure, mark off a good half hour timeframe for this call. If they don’t answer the phone, leave a message. You did make the attempt and that is the point. And if they do answer, let them know that you understand they have a lot on their plate, they are busy and it’s hard to talk but you are here for them if they need you.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

And if you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. It's available for pre-order now!