If you have ever lost a loved one, you know how painful it is. We grieve: It's our response to loss, and mourning is our reaction to grief. Mourning is the heartbreaking process we work through so we can eventually adapt to loss.

Friends or family members play a crucial role in extending support during the mourning period. We do this by offering condolences to communicate our sympathy. Expressing condolences is our way of showing compassion and concern and there is a myriad of ways to do this:

  • Mourners find solace when we participate in funeral rituals, such as the funeral, memorial service, visitation, wake, Shiva, or consolation meal. It’s important to sign the guest book; the books will be carefully read in the weeks and months ahead.
  • It’s difficult to assume routines and responsibilities while mourning so it is helpful to provide sustenance. You can do this with a fruit basket, a meal, gift card to restaurant or favorite carry out, or a challah. There are online programs making it easy for friends and neighbors to coordinate meal deliveries.   
  • Make a donation. The family might designate a non-profit the deceased supported; if not, choose a worthy organization that fits the interests of the bereaved. When making the donation, ask that the bereaved be notified so they are aware their loved one has been honored.
  • Write a sympathy note. Notes are important as they are tangible proof that the deceased mattered. Take the time to share at least one memory. Notes have lasting impact and the bereaved will read and re-read them as the move through the mourning process. Share a photo as they are especially precious.
  • Call or email to check in. If you feel awkward just say: “Hi Tom. I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to check in.” You can ask Tom if he could use some help and go from there.
  • Set up a visit by email or telephone. Ask: “Can we meet for coffee?” or “Would you like to come for dinner next Wednesday?” If they are homebound ask if you can pick them. Meeting face-to-face with the bereaved will give them time to articulate their thoughts and share their memories. Listen, allowing them to do the talking.

The bereaved need you. Your condolences during a lonely and painful time is a true blessing. Whatever you give, the bereaved will reap. It's your gestures that facilitate healing.

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 as e-books for "Illness & Death," "Suicide," "Miscarriage," "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 Store.

Top Image: Flickr / Creative Commons / Derek Law

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