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When and How to Offer Condolences

When someone you know loses someone close to them, many people are unsure about what to say or do. However, your support can make a world of difference. Here’s a short guide for offering your condolences.

Sharing condolences with a friend

If a friend has lost someone close to him or her, reach out as soon as possible. In the case of a close friend, it’s usually best to share your condolences via phone or in person. You may be in a unique position to provide important support, so try to identify specific ways you can offer to help. It's usually a good idea to offer your support for specific tasks instead of saying something general like "I'm here if you need me". Many of those who have lost someone are often in need of assistance, with many things, but aren't sure how to ask for help and what to ask for help for. If you know your friend has kids or pets, needs someone to clean their house, run errands, etc. offering up your services for a specific task can be incredibly helpful. If you aren’t able to be there in person or help in a specific way, consider also sending sympathy flowers as a follow up to show that you’re thinking of your friend.

Sharing condolences when the deceased was a friend

If a friend of yours has passed away, reach out to the family as soon as soon as you feel emotionally ready. In this case, email is often a good medium, but if they were a very close friend and you knew the family, visiting in person or calling is a good idea. Take the opportunity to share your own feelings about the loss, and considering including photos and stories that you look back on fondly. Families often appreciate seeing photos of their loved one that they didn't have the opportunity to see previously. If the family has set up a memorial website, consider sharing photos and stories there as well.

Sharing condolences with a colleague

If a colleague of yours has lost someone, try to send a note within a day or so of finding out. An email is generally a good medium. If your colleague is out of the office on bereavement leave, sending sympathy flowers is often a nice touch. While sending a serious condolence message to a colleague may feel awkward, it's a very standard thing to do. If you're unsure of the best way to express your condolences, the general rule of thumb is to keep the condolences short, simple, supportive, and genuine. Simply stating "Sorry for your loss" has the potential to do more harm than good, so consider your words before sending off the email.

Sharing condolences with an acquaintance

When an acquaintance loses someone, feel free to send a note right away, but you may also choose to wait a few days. This lets your acquaintance process condolences from those close to them immediately, but continue to feel supported as time passes. Avoid coming off as disingenuous or acting as though your acquaintance has suddenly turned into a solid friendship since this person has recently lost someone. Offer support, your condolences, and you can even offer to help them with a task, if you feel so inclined.


For more information on what to include in a condolence note, read our blog post on sending condolences.

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Last updated March 10, 2021
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