It’s one thing to support a family member or friend dealing with loss but harder to know what to say and do with relationships that lack intimacy. It may seem safe to do nothing when you’re uncertain how best to proceed but it’s the small kindnesses that mean a lot and go a long way in providing comfort. Here are some suggestions from real-life queries:

Q: How can you support a colleague that has experienced a painful loss? My supervisor is really an acquaintance and her 25-year-old daughter, an only child, was just killed in a car accident. What can I say or do to help her?

A: Loss is very isolating so it’s important that you don’t stay away because that will isolate her even further. Let her know how very sorry you are that this has happened, either by note or in person. You can make a donation in her daughter’s name, either to an organization that she has designated or one that you think will have meaning. Leave a plant or flowers on her desk with a note that you are thinking of her. Or, on occasion, stop by her office with coffee. She’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness and feel better knowing that she and her daughter are not forgotten.

Q: What can you do when a business contact dies?

A: If you are in the same city or this was a contact that you developed into a more meaningful relationship, you may choose to attend the funeral. It would be appropriate and kind if you wrote the family a condolence note. You can state how sorry you were to hear of the death, that he (or she) was a consummate professional, and you really enjoyed working with him (or her). You can share a personal anecdote or story that reflects the individual’s talents or personality. Even if the family doesn’t acknowledge your note, they will appreciate knowing that their loved one was well thought of in the workplace.


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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