Learning to Graciously Give Sympathies
There is no escaping death unfortuantey. It is a fact of life and odds are, by your twenties, unless you are extremely lucky, you have lost someone close to you. If not, I’m sure you have lost a pet or have had a friend who has endured a great loss.
I have noticed that most of my peers, feel SO uncomfortable when acknowledging a sad circumstance in a person’s life. I get it. It’s sad and awful, but I think it is more awful to not acknowledge a person’s life or loss. It is just something that should be said. Perhaps some people don’t feel this way, but it’s always better to play it safe and give words of kindness than to seem as though you are ignoring it or being thoughtless. The intentions are always good whether or not there is a moment of Debbie Downer-like momentum.
“I don’t know what to say” or “I think they would rather just be happy” or “It’s weird to bring it up now!” are all cop outs. You aren’t socially inept. You know when the right time to say something is, so go with your gut. Do it privately or just in passing. Sometimes life sometimes presents us with uncomfortable situations, and it’s important to learn to handle them.
I know from experience that when you are going through a hard time, support from loved ones, acquaintances, and even strangers can mean a lot. It was interesting experiencing loss, and seeing who reaches out with that sort of support and who does not. Sometimes you would be happily and unhappily surprised by people’s reactions.
Here are a few tips for handling fragile moments in people’s lives.
Acknowledge the issue, and then change the subject
Recently, I saw an acquaintance who lost his father. I didn’t know him well but I thought it would not be appropriate to ignore what was going on in his life. So, in passing, I said, “I’m sorry to hear about your father.”
He said, “thank you, I appreciate that”. Then I swiftly changed the subject to not relish in any sad or uncomfortable moments. We carried on the conversation without a hitch and even though it probably made him sad for a second, he most likely appreciated the extra thoughts and prayers. I was prepared in my conversation switch up as well, if he wanted to articulate more other than a thank-you, he would have so I took it into my own hands to gracefully move away from the subject. This advice works best with acquaintances.
On the flip side, if someone wants to talk, let them. Be a good listener. Act engaged, not like you’re uncomfortable, even if you may be. They need the help more than you so suck it up and be a friend.
Be respectful of the religious or spiritual ceremonies of a service
Always be respectful of other people’s beliefs. Listen and be open minded when you are at a service of a religion different than yours. Odds are it’s a learning experience and you will be able to draw something interesting from the experience. So many different cultures and religions have such a unique take on life and death, and some things can really give you comfort and open you up to new ways of thinking.
Only give positive feedback on a service
People love their opinions and giving their input. Unless you are immediate family, you don’t have a place to speak. Extended relatives, friends, and acquaintances should only be supportive when commenting on a ceremony, burial, or after lunch/dinner. The immediate family is planning a huge, important event under stressful circumstances all the while they are grieving. It is not an ideal situation so always be complimentary and try to always think about what another person is going through.
Give a token of sympathy
I know that this depends on how well you know the person but it is always nice to give a sympathy card, flowers, a note or to even write on the online obituaries. Simple words like, “thinking about you”, “sending my prayers” and “I’m so sorry for your loss” are more than enough to help ease the pain.
People grieve long after the funeral. In fact, that’s usually the rock bottom part. There is no more. You have done everything that needed to be done and then you need to move on and go about your life adjusting to the huge change and hole in your heart. That’s when people need support the most. If someone close to you is going through this, drop them a line here and there. Offer to plan a dinner to take their mind off things. Or simply bring them a coffee. Little things, big things…it’s all good, just as long as they feel like you are thinking about them. Grief can be lonely and it’s nice to feel love and support.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: JENNA WHITECAR
I work in marketing for a technology company in San Francisco. I earned my degree in Broadcast Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University where I graduated in three years with honors. With a passion for art, travel, food, fitness, fashion, and of course, writing, I started my lifestyle blog, Jenna Rose Colored Glasses, where I aim to create a creative, fun, relatable space for women to get inspired and share ideas. I am also a freelance content writer for various businesses and am working on a novel.