Common Mistakes People Make When They Offer Condolences

Share Button

My special guest blogger today is Suzie Kolber, who is an expert in coming up with just the right words we can all use when we wish to offer words of sympathy to bereaved friends and work associates. Sometimes it can be a real challenge to say something other than a cliche or platitude, and so I know you’ll enjoy Suzie’s ideas for how we can be more supportive during those unsettling and precarious times everyone encounters in life.

Here’s her article:

Common Mistakes People Make When They Offer Condolences

Talking to someone who has just lost a loved one is never easy. In fact, many people avoid the situation by staying away or sending a generic card. They are afraid of saying the wrong thing. While there is no one right way to offer condolences, there are a few mistakes well-meaning people often make. Learn from others so you don’t make the same errors.

Saying “It will get better.”

While you know the person won’t always feel like they do right now, telling them so only trivializes their feelings. Instead, you want them to know it’s okay to feel this way. You have no idea how long it will take for their heart to mend and for them to feel like resuming life again.

In place of telling someone to cheer up or that they will feel better in time, you may say something like “I’m here for you if you need to talk.” This lets the person know they don’t have to pretend to feel better if they don’t.

Trying to cheer them up

Everyone moves through the stages of grief at their own pace, and you can’t hurry it along. If the person is feeling sad, they don’t necessarily want you trying to make the smile or laugh. They may not be ready to move forward with their daily lives because it feels like they are leaving the deceased person behind.

You don’t want to avoid talking about the person who passed away because it may actually make them feel better. Hearing stories about that person from your point of view may be the healing they need. And you might be surprised to find it does cheer them up. While you may not enjoy talking about sad things, forcing conversation on superficial topics because they are happy or neutral won’t ease the person’s pain or make them forget about their loved one.

Pretending nothing has changed

Many people feel awkward talking to the loved one of someone who died. They aren’t sure what to say, and so they try to avoid any mention of the person. They will talk about the weather, what’s going on at work or other normal stuff. While this may be helpful, don’t purposefully avoid talking about the person who died.

The family member knows they are gone, and they will feel the silence as you struggle to avoid mentioning the person. Instead, mention them as it feels normal. Talking about the person is one way the loved one has of keeping their memory alive. Don’t be afraid to talk about serious and sad subjects. Ignoring them won’t make them go away, and the discussion can help the person deal with their emotions.

Knowing the right thing to say can be difficult, but knowing what not to say can be even harder. Just know that if your heart is in the right place, the person will understand what you can’t find the words to say. Your presence means more than any words, so don’t avoid interaction with the family just because you aren’t sure what you should say to them.

Suzie Kolber is a writer at Words of Condolences



Is There Hope for Our Future?

If anyone has the justification to feel hopeless, we might imagine it would be the spiritual leader of Tibet who was run out of his own country nearly sixty years ago and has been in exile in northern India ever since.


However, the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of compassionate understanding of the ways of the world, and his thoughtfulness is reflected in every message, speech and teaching he offers us.  What can we learn from his words? To look at each situation not from the perspective of finding the pain in it, but to find the seeds of growth and optimism.


It is always our own choice how we view every incident in our lives, both private and public. We can take the position of fearing that the world is falling apart and there is no hope for future generations, or we can realize that we are always in a time of growth and evolution and change. When we look to ways to evolve in an upward direction, we make world peace an eventuality instead of simply a wistful wish.


Please enjoy the following excerpt from The Washington Post, Opinions, dated June 13, 2016.


Why I’m Hopeful About the World’s Future

by The Dalai Lama


“While it would be easy to feel a sense of hopelessness and despair, it is all the more necessary in the early years of the 21st century to be realistic and optimistic.

“There are many reasons for us to be hopeful. Recognition of universal human rights, including the right to self-determination, has expanded beyond anything imagined a century ago. There is growing international consensus in support of gender equality and respect for women. Particularly among the younger generation, there is a widespread rejection of war as a means of solving problems. Across the world, many are doing valuable work to prevent terrorism, recognizing the depths of misunderstanding and the divisive idea of “us” and “them” that is so dangerous. Significant reductions in the world’s arsenal of nuclear weapons mean that setting a timetable for further reductions and ultimately the elimination of nuclear weapons — a sentiment President Obama recently reiterated in Hiroshima, Japan — no longer seem a mere dream.”

The following excerpt is from the book Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts.


“Your rate of learning depends entirely upon you, however. Limited, dogmatic, or rigid concepts of good and evil can hold you back. Too narrow ideas of the nature of  existence can follow you through several lives if you do not choose to be spiritually and psychically flexible.


“These rigid ideas can indeed act as leashes, so that you are forced to circle like a tied puppy dog about a very small radius. In such cases, through perhaps a group of existences, you will find yourself battling against ideas of good and evil, running about in a circle of confusion, doubt, and anxiety.


“Your friends and acquaintances will be concerned with the same problems, for you will draw to yourself those with the same concerns. I am telling you again, therefore, that many of your ideas of good and evil are highly distortive, and shadow all understanding you have of the nature of reality.


“If you form a guilt in your mind, then it is a reality for you, and you must work it  out. But many of you form guilts for which there is no adequate cause, and you saddle yourselves with these guilts without reason. In your dimension of activity there appear to be a wild assortment of evils. Let me tell you that he who hates an evil merely creates another one.


“From within your point of reference it is often difficult for you to perceive that all events work toward creativity, or to trust in the spontaneous creativity of your own natures.”


What Is True Compassion?


We get confused between compassion for someone we like who is easy to get along with and loving, and a higher level of compassion that invites us to remain compassionate for all people, no matter how they behave. Often, the love and compassion we feel for our family members and spouse get tested when challenges arise, and we realize a lot of the things we believed about the other people were just part of a façade. Here is how the Dalai Lama explains compassion:


“True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.”


With our cultural emphasis on instant gratification, if the people around us don’t act the way we think they should, the relationship usually falters or the marriage ends in the divorce courts.  However, here is another way to look at compassion, from the perspective of learning our lessons in the real world. The Dalai Lama says, “I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them. And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, so if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!”


Is there some person or situation in your life right now that is an opportunity for learning? It doesn’t mean we are supposed to stay in an abusive or unpleasant or detrimental relationship purely for the reason of practicing our principles of love and compassion in a difficult situation, but rather to use the situation for growth. I think it feels natural to want to shut the door on a bad relationship or experience, but take time to extract the lessons it came to teach you, and with this practice, you’ll find an easier way to detach from the pain and upset feelings.

Is It Okay to Hate Someone Who Has a Hate-Based Agenda?

We’ve all been trained from early childhood to live pretty much in a “reactive” mode—looking around us, noticing what others are doing, seeing what’s on the news, deciding what side of a political campaign we agree with, or whose part in an argument between friends we think is the correct one.

We let our buttons get pushed as if we actually have physical buttons that are hard-wired to our emotional center. And we react in hurt, anger, outrage, and anxiety when we don’t like what other people or countries are doing.

But what if we are only compounding the “badness” in the world with our own reaction? What if our anger or rage or determination to overcome someone (or something like cancer, poverty, terrorism, childhood hunger) is actually making matters worse?

It’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around! The very idea seems so contrary to the reality we’ve grown up in and live in every single day that it must be just some esoteric idea being promoted by a few oddballs out there trying to sell their books.

And yet, ancient wisdom that is thousands of years old in every culture teaches us that we become what we think about the most. If we think about getting even with or defeating someone who is on a path of destruction, we actually add more energy to their fear-based behavior. If you pause and imagine a series of energy wave “belts” encircling the globe, and each one is at a different frequency: some are related to thoughts of world peace, love, harmony, caring for one another, growing and expanding in joy as we realize we are all connected in the One Mind. And other belts are on a lower frequency of fearful emotions including rage, anger, depression, discouragement, worry, greed, and the determination to dominate others for the sole purpose of power and immense wealth.

Whatever we are thinking at any given moment is in harmony with one of those “belts” I’ve invented for the purpose of illustration. Although you can’t actually see a “belt” around the equator, there are indeed thought wavelengths that never die. This is a good thing to understand because it means if you are feeling lonely about being the only one among your friends who wants world peace, you can mentally tap into the wavelength of all the other millions on earth who want that, too.

So instead of hating someone who is operating on a low frequency of totalitarianism, hatred, power-madness, simply link yourself up with thoughts of a higher nature. The more we do this, the more we think loving and compassionate thoughts about life in general, the more we will manifest events, experiences and… yes, world peace.

The Dalai Lama is a master of compassion, despite being forced out of his own country by the Red Army in 1959, and then the Chinese government rewrote the history books and educated the children that China always owned Tibet.  His Holiness could probably look at any situation directly and be able to draw on an endless well of compassion and love.

But don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t disciplined your mind and heart to do that, too. We are all progressing in our own rate of spiritual evolution. Many people are stuck in fear and hatred, but that doesn’t mean we should join them by being hateful ourselves.

A quick tip: don’t feel this means you have to bring that angry, hate-filled, person to mind and send loving thoughts directly to him. Most of us aren’t at a high enough level of compassion to pull that off—thinking about the other person’s raging and terrorizing behavior might invoke such feelings of anger and helplessness and worry in your mind that you’ll end up feeling frustrated and upset.

Instead, imagine something or someone that brings up a happy and contented feeling inside you: it could be thinking about a child you love, a butterfly, a happy memory of celebrating a birthday or anniversary. Then, while thinking of that person or event, let the feelings of peace wash up in you and spill over into your life.

Imagine there are sparkling golden lights dancing around you, and let yourself be calm. You’ve just connected with the power of love.

And love always trumps hate. Always. Even Hitler was eventually defeated.