How to Express Words of Sympathy

Updated February 21, 2017

You have got the news. A business associate, personal friend or family member has died. This is one of the things we all hate to deal with. You know you must communicate with or go to visit the family. What should you say? How in the world do you find the right words to express your sympathy to the bereaved? Perhaps it is not a death, but a huge loss. Maybe the family pet was killed. The loss of a job, a business, a home or a way of life can be nearly as mournful a situation as an actual death. There will always be times that others will need our words of sympathy.

Say it simply: "I'm so very sorry for your loss." It is better to say very little. if you are uncomfortable, a few chosen words can express sympathy and save you from causing pain with the wrong words.

Speak to the loved one of a person who has died from a medical condition: "I'm sorry for your loss. I realise this has been a very hard time for your family." The family has obviously suffered; bringing up the illness only causes sad, pain-filled memories.

Talk with a family member of a business associate: "I am sorry for your loss. Mr. Smith will be greatly missed. Please accept our condolences." It is important to let someone know that their loved one had value in the workplace. It is important to a family that the person had a good reputation or was well thought of outside the family environment.

Go visit with your own family member and give the person a hug: "I'm going to miss Uncle Larry. I'm so sorry for your loss, Aunt Debra." Dwell on the positive. Gather with the family and speak of happy memories.

Speak with mourners as a family member: "Thank you for being with us. I know that Lawrence thought highly of you." "Your Uncle Larry loved you dearly. I know you will miss him." Many times a mourning family member expresses sympathy to those who also had deep friendships and family relationships.

Write in a card, "Dear Mrs. Smith, our family was saddened to hear of the passing of Lawrence. We wish to express our deepest sympathy during this time of loss for your family."

Send this message with the floral arrangement for the funeral of a co-worker: "We are so very sorry for your loss. This is a great loss for (company name)." Signed, the staff or crew at (company name).

Ask the florist to write, "We are heartbroken at the loss of Uncle Larry. We are sorry we can not be with you at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with the whole family."

Write in a card or letter: "My heart goes out to you at this time. I still find it so hard to believe. My thoughts and prayers go out for you and the kids now and in the weeks ahead. I will always miss Larry. Please let me know if there is anything I can do."

Write a thoughtful message of remembrance. Recall one instance that expresses the character of the person who has passed away. Write of a memory that shows the person's giving spirit, sense of humour or community spirit. These memories mean so very much to family members. Always write a short letter. The pain of mourning gives short amounts of time for being able to read messages.

Write a message to a young couple: "We are so sorry to hear about the loss of the baby. This is a heartbreaking time, and we want you to know we share your loss. You have our love, thoughts and prayers at this time." To express that they can have more children is the last thing you should ever do. This baby was everything, and this is a huge loss.

Go to the home of the family of a person who has committed suicide or was a victim of murder. This is truly one of the hardest things to deal with. The family needs you. Simply tell them, "I can't begin to understand what you are going through. I want you to know I am here if you need to talk, vent, cry or break something. This is a horrible time, and none of us can make any sense of it. I'm so very sorry."

Speak with a person who has lost a job or business: "I'm sorry to hear that you have lost your job (or company). We've been thinking of you during this rough time."

Speak to a young person: "I'm sorry to hear that you had to leave school due to finances. I'm hoping things change for you soon."

Speak to a child: "I'm sorry you lost your dog. She was special."


If you are very uncomfortable, say or write little. Realise that people in mourning need to know you are there for them. They won't mind if you can't find the words.


Never tell a mourning family member, "It's for the best." The mourning family aches to have that family member back, and they don't need you telling them it's better this way. Their hearts do not agree. Never tell someone who is mourning, especially a family member: "Do not cry. You can't bring him or her back." This is a cruel way to express sympathy. It would be better to say nothing.

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About the Author

Suzie Faloon is a freelance writer who has written online content for various websites. As a professional crafter and floral designer, Faloon owned a florist business for nearly 25 years. She completed the Institute of Children's Literature course in 1988.