Over the past few months, I’ve sadly had to write a fair few sympathy cards and attend a handful of funerals. This has got me thinking about the language we use to express our condolences and whether there are ever enough words – or the right words – to express our feelings.
When writing a card for a grieving person it is really hard to know what to say when faced with a blank card. (This is after you’ve spent a long time agonising over which card to choose in the first place.) I found it even harder to express my sympathies when writing cards for people I was close to (my best friend and a relative). Do you keep it short and simple and risk coming across as unfeeling? Or do you write spontaneously with great feeling about a memory shared, risking a condolence card turning into some great rambling text with no natural place to stop?
Knowing how to talk to someone after they’ve experienced the death of a loved one is also hard. According to Cruse, the leading national charity for bereaved people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we should encourage the bereaved person to talk to us and really listen to them. Phone calls, emails and visits are all positive things we can do to help. It would appear, then, that conversations are “good things”.
Conversely we should not avoid the person who is grieving for fear of “saying the wrong thing”. They may dearly wish to talk about and remember the person they have lost. That said, Cruse advises that we should definitely not use clichés like “I understand how you feel” or “time heals”.
I guess there is no “right” or “wrong” way to write or talk to people who are grieving, provided that we are sincere, sympathetic and kind in our choice of words.