What Can You Say?

What do you say to a friend who has had a death in the family? While this might seem an odd choice for a daily e-mail message, it is something that affects us all at one time or another. Loved ones die every day, and odds are that many of you reading this have recently dealt with this very situation.

Many people feel bewildered when it comes to the etiquette of death. Because we don’t know what to say or do, it’s easier to do nothing. But even discomfort and ignorance are not good reasons for ignoring friends or acquaintances at this difficult time.

Flowers and notes cannot be sent too soon, and commercial sympathy cards are fine if you add a personal note. If you are puzzled about what to say, look through the cards and find two with messages you like. Buy one card, and write the message from the other inside. Better yet, just look into your heart and write the words and feelings you find there.

At the funeral or memorial service, take your behavior cues from the family. Refrain from suggesting that the deceased is better off, and refrain from imposing your religious beliefs on the mourners. At this time, nerves and emotions are at their rawest, and for some, pain is barely held at bay. Remember, grieving is a process that takes time, and bereaved parents or spouses may not be able to respond to your sympathy at first.

Follow up on your card or note with a phone call, another note, or social invitation in a few weeks or months. And no matter how awkward you may feel, how distant the relative or casual the friend, death should never be ignored. The life did not deserve to be ignored, and neither does the passing of it.