Words of Sympathy – What Do We Say?


Photo Credit:  Pixabay

I have a blank condolence card sitting on my desk for well over a week now.  I know better than that, this card should have been signed, sealed and delivered long ago.  It’s been sitting on my desk, I procrastinated and now I’m sitting here thinking, “Oh shoot!  What if I say the wrong thing?  What if I stir up painful memories?” 


I really should know better than to think of any of the above.

I know how comforting every single card and note received was after my father died.  The bond between a girl and her dad is profound and everlasting. The loss of a father can bring about not only feelings of loss and grief, but also a gut wrenching paralyzing fear.  Losing my father was devastating. I spent the first few days after my father’s death in a daze.  Just speaking and showering were difficult.  I remember my phone ringing and people talking, but all I heard was the Charlie Brown teacher on the other end.  Just uttering the words, “Thank you” became exhausting.  So I stopped answering the phone and relied on my better half to tell people I couldn’t do it.

Death is funny.  

As soon as someone dies everyone wants to see and speak to you.  For someone who just lost a family member to a long-term illness you can’t help but wonder where all these Chatty Patty’s were throughout the deceased’s pain and suffering.  The last five months of my father’s life was spent on hospice, screaming in pain.  It was a confusing, horrific time. Visits were welcome and provided much needed comfort for both my father AND his family.

The days and weeks following my father’s death were life changing.

In our case we were informed months after my father’s passing that some Chatty Patty’s were told by “others” not to visit.  Let’s think about this.  Other than the dying person and his immediate family aka the caregiver what gives anyone the right to speak on their behalf? Despite my father being gravely ill he loved people and company so much, that towards the end of his life he yearned for company.  Unfortunately death forces people think about their own mortality and many make atrocious irreversible mistakes. You can’t exactly visit a person after they die, and if you know how to please let me know because I really miss my Dad.  A big spray of flowers doesn’t make up for your nonexistent visits to a dying man and his family.  A basket of muffins and jelly is not a get out of consoling the grieving family voucher and certainly does not give you the right to gossip about the dead guy’s family.  Gossip is tacky, tasteless and really low class, and it’s worse when it’s done after someone dies.  Some food for thought, would you say all those lovely things to the deceased’s face?  Be truthful when answering!  If the answer is no (and it probably is) then you are a deterrent to the person grieving and you are showing a total lack of respect for the deceased.  I’m also guessing you have yet to suffer that one big loss, because when you do you will realize that a person grieving someone of significance is basically learning how to survive and everything else becomes irrelevant, starting with petty gossip.

But that’s just my opinion.

Let’s get back to that condolence card on my desk, as many of you already know grief is confusing and has a way of making your thoughts race.  So let me try to focus and let’s discuss condolence cards.

Cards and well wishes sent to the immediate family are extremely comforting for a grieving person.  Despite my little outburst above, we received hundreds of cards, some from people we never met, but knew of us through my Dad.  They knew of us as, “Al’s Girls.”  Friends of my Dad who knew how my father’s face lit up when he spoke of his family. Cards from men and women who worked for my Dad many years ago, but fondly remember him as being a kind and fair boss, a great man.  I vividly remember sitting at my parent’s kitchen table reading every single word, hanging onto every single word.

Slowly as I read through piles of cards, hundreds of them, it seemed overwhelming to think about how so many people cared enough to send along their prayers and well wishes. I went through the cards more than once, they became my lifeline. Just knowing that so many people were thinking of us, trying to comfort us in such a painful time, was what really mattered. And when I take the time to really reflect I realize the value is in the people who genuinely cared and still care, not the Chatty Patty’s who are just annoying bumps in my grief journey.

The pain of losing someone can never be compensated. However a few words of sympathy will at least ease the burden of pain off your loved ones who have lost a person of significance.

Below are some suggestions when we are at a loss for what to write in a condolence card.

  • I am deeply saddened to hear the news of your father.  He was a great man.
  • Your father had such an amazing personality. He always made the best out of any situation. (Include a memory your remember)  I learned a lot from him throughout the years, he was always a ray of light and an inspiration. My life will not be the same without him.
  • I am truly sorry for your loss. There is not grieving message that can express how much he meant to me. My heart is aching.
  • Your father was always there for my family and me. He was so giving and thoughtful. He will live on in our heart forever.
  • Your father always bragged about how wonderful you were. I hope you know that you meant the world to him. He was a wonderful man and will be missed. Truly sorry for your loss.

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