What to say when someone loses a loved one can be an incredibly difficult task, especially for those who have not yet experienced the death of a loved one in their own lives. The most common phrase uttered to someone who has lost a loved one, whether it’s scribbled on a sympathy card or said over the phone, is: “I’m sorry for your loss.” Sometimes the words might be a little changed around, or substituted with synonymous. “In this time of loss, you have my sympathy,” “Your loss is a sorrow to us all,” etc. But most people tend to fall back on this typical phrase (or one of its variations) because they are not sure what else to say. How do express “I’m sorry for your loss” without resorting to using a variation of this phrase that, through no fault of its own, has become somewhat of an empty cliché?

It is possible to express sympathy without relying on “I’m sorry for your loss,” but you may have to consider the implications of a more personal message before you write, send or say it. Before you write down this phrase or a variation of it on a sympathy card or express it over the phone or in person, think about the following questions:

What do you want to say to this person?

What kind of words do you think will help them at this time?

What do you know about death and loss that you think will benefit this person?

Can the intent of your message be taken the wrong way or misunderstood?

A well-thought out sympathy message, written or not, is something that expresses your true feelings about the situation in a sensitive way that may help/benefit the person experiencing loss. Sometimes, people might be afraid to use anything but the general “I’m sorry for your loss” because they are worried about making the person upset or coming across too strongly or personal. But many people who are experiencing the death of a loved one feel that generic messages offer no real solace or comfort, even though the intentions are there. So, how can you express sorrow while offering comfort? You will have to tailor your message to the person individually while taking into consideration the above questions.

Many people find messages of sympathy which contain a happy memory to be a more uplifting comfort than the typical “I’m sorry for your loss” card. For example, beginning a sympathy message with “I will miss (the deceased) very much. I will never forget the time we (happy memory).” This kind of message lets the person know they are not alone in their sorrow, while providing an uplifting memory which may help them through a sorrowful time. You could also include reasons why you will always remember the deceased person, such as a reminder of their generous personality or wonderful gifts.

Other phrases which may be helpful when composing a sympathy message that brings to mind the wonderful aspects of the deceased person include: “I always enjoyed doing (activity) with (the deceased)”; “(The deceased) meant so much to me, because…”; “Always remember the good times with (the deceased). They will remain in your heart.”

Expressing your willingness to be there for the person in this time of need is another way to offer a comforting message in a more personalized way. For example, including “Please do not hesitant to call if you need me.” Or “If you need me, I’m always just a phone call away.” Letting the person who is grieving know that they have a support system can help them get through the difficult process of grieving.

In the end, “I’m sorry for your loss” is a phrase that is far too overused when it comes to expressing sympathy. While there is nothing wrong with expressing sorrow for a loss, letting people know in a more personal way of how you feel about the deceased will go a long way towards brightening up a grieving person’s day during a difficult and emotional period of time.


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