Expressing condolences for difficult relationships

It’s a challenge to craft a meaningful condolence note in the best of circumstances. But how do you acknowledge a death when the relationship was difficult or even estranged?

The depth of one’s grief doesn’t necessarily equate to the quality of the relationship, so just because someone had a difficult relationship doesn’t mean they’re not hurting. It’s even possible that they’re hurting more because the opportunity for reconciliation has passed. And they’ll grieve that loss along with what might have been.

So what’s an appropriate response to this complicated loss? You can call and express your sadness at hearing the news. Even if the bereaved doesn’t want to discuss it, extend an invitation to get together for a visit, either for coffee, lunch, or dinner. Grief from this loss is complicated so if the bereaved does open up to you, a willingness to listen will be appreciated. If you’re uncertain about making a donation in memory of the deceased, you can always make a donation to a cause you feel would be meaningful to the bereaved. The reason for the donation is simple; thinking of you.

Just like any loss, your friend will need a friend. And that’s where you come in.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle StoreClick here to order.

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