While it can be hard to know what to say to friends and loved ones facing difficult times, it can be even tougher when it happens at work. It’s one thing to support a friend dealing with a difficult loss but harder to know what to say and do with relationships that lack intimacy. Here are some real-life situations with helpful strategies. 

Despite working with someone day to day, collegial relationships are more like acquaintances. So how can you support a bereaved colleague that has experienced a painful loss? What can you say or do to help them?

  • Loss is very isolating so it’s important that you don’t stay away because that will isolate them even more.
  • Let them know how very sorry you are that this has happened, either by note or in person.
  • You can make a donation in their loved one’s name, either to an organization that has been designated or one that you think will have meaning, like a local food bank.
  • Leave a plant on their desk with a note that you are thinking of them.
  • Or, stop by their office with coffee. It’s the little kindnesses that mean a lot and go a long way in providing comfort. 


What do you say and how can you help a colleague who has been diagnosed with a difficult illness?


  •  When you see your colleague, say “It is so good to see you.” And then take your cues from them. If they just smile or nod without comment, you can move on. If they begin a conversation, follow their lead.
  • If they are recuperating at home, send a note or card that communicates your thoughts: “I’m thinking of you and hoping for a speedy recovery.” Or, “I hope today’s a good day and I’ll be seeing you soon.”
  • If you’re comfortable phoning, ask if you can bring a meal or arrange for others to bring meals too. Or, offer to run an errand or stop by on Saturday to visit.
  • Depending on your relationship, notes and cards, just sending wishes for a sunny day, are often appreciated.



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 Store. Click here to order.


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