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Funeral Etiquette: Sending Condolences

When someone you know passes away, it can be hard to put your feelings into words. Even still, sharing your condolences with the family of the deceased is a thoughtful gesture during a difficult time.

How to share your condolences

Following a death, the most common two ways to share condolences are sending sympathy flowers and sending a written note.

If you choose to send sympathy flowers, you can send them directly to the funeral service itself or to a member of the deceased family. Use the note that comes with the flower delivery to craft a heartfelt message. You'll want to spend a little time considering the type of flower you'd like to send, especially since some flowers have different meanings to different cultures.

If you choose to write a note without sending flowers, there are several ways you can do it. A handwritten card is always a nice touch, but a well thought out email or post on an online memorial can be just as nice. In some case, doing both may feel appropriate and something you'd like to consider. Many people will send a heartfelt card, but will post a story or photo or two on the online memorial page itself.

If you live in the same town as the family of the deceased, you may also want to consider finding a way to support them. Dropping by with dinner or running a few errands on their behalf may mean more than any words could. It's important to remember to offer concrete help instead of saying things like, "I'm always here for you," if you don't intend on following through.

When to send condolences

In general, you should try to send condolences as close to hearing about the death as possible. If there’s a notable wait between the death and the funeral and you want to send flowers to the funeral, consider sending a short note first.

What to say in your condolence message

What you choose to put in your condolence message is up to you and should depend on your relationship with both the deceased and his or her family. If you didn’t know the deceased well, simply offering your sympathy and support can be enough. (e.g. “I’m so sorry for your loss, and I’d love to help you out in any way I can during this difficult time. Can I bring some takeout by tomorrow evening?”).

If you knew the deceased well, a condolence note can also be a good place to relive a fond memory and share what you’ll miss most about the person.

Want more inspiration? Browse our condolence message templates.

What not to say in your condolence message

When you’re at a loss for words, it can be easy to slip up and say something well intentioned that doesn’t come across well to the family of the deceased. Here are some phrases that are generally good to avoid:

  • “I know how you feel.” Grief is very personal, and everyone reacts to the death of someone they love in different ways. Try to avoid projecting your own experiences and emotions on others.
  • “It was God’s will.” While this phrase is often meant to help, it can frequently cause the family of the deceased to feel as though the person is suggesting that God wanted to punish either them or their loved one who passed away.
  • “He/she is in a better place.” Similarly, this can feel like you're telling the family that it’s better that their family member passed away.
  • “Let me know how I can help.” While well intentioned, it puts the burden on the family to come up with a way you can help. It’s generally much better to offer to specific way you’d like to help and let them accept or decline.
  • "You'll feel better soon. / It'll get better soon." This may feel like something that inspires hope in the grieving person or individual, but this can come across as an inauthentic and a platitude that lacks empathy. Grief has no timeline and you can't say for certain that they'll feel better soon.

At the end of day, your relationship with the deceased and his or her family is unique, so trust your gut and write from your heart.

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Last updated January 13, 2021
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