What’s the best way to offer condolences?

What’s the best way to offer condolences?

When someone close to you passes, it’s hard to know the best timing, and the right way is to offer condolences. It’s natural to want to reach out and offer sympathy and support, but sometimes we’re unsure how to go about it.

We’ve put a list together of some things that are more appropriate to say and some things you should avoid saying, and the timing of when to say it.

As a simple rule of thumb, the closer you are to the family of the person who has passed, the sooner you should contact them. Most people are grateful to have support around them in some form through the grieving process.

Condolences general guide:

A close friend or relative: It’s ok to call immediately and if they don’t answer at first try again or text.  It’s important to continue to stay in touch daily.

An extended friend or friend of the family: It’s appropriate to text or send flowers or a note and follow up after the funeral.

If you are a colleague or acquaintance: Send an email or flowers on behalf of the company or department.

The timing isn’t as tricky as what to say. Remember, during this time, people’s emotions are high, so you need to consider what to say.


Here are a couple of statements that are a good way to show your sympathy.

  • I’m sorry for your loss – While this phrase has become very common, it is also a simple and straightforward way of communicating your empathy.
  • You are in my thoughts/I’m thinking of you – People can feel isolated at this time, and just having someone say they are thinking of them may be enough to let them know they’re not alone.
  • I love you and I’m here when you need – The feeling of love is very powerful, and people need to hear it so they feel they are ok and have people to support them.

Here are a couple of statements to avoid:

  • “I know how you are feeling” – While you may be trying to be honest and have empathy, this statement can come across as not empathetic. It’s better to say something more along the lines of “I’m here for you if you want to talk about how you’re feeling.”
  • “S/he is in a better place” – Unless you know for sure that the person who died and the bereaved person both believed in an afterlife, this statement has the potential to be offensive.
  • “How are you doing/holding up? – For most people who have experienced a death, the answer to this question is ‘not good’. This statement forces people to try and put on a brave face and say they’re ok when most people are no doing ok. 
  • “Now you can move on” – If someone has been dealing with a terminal illness death can sometimes feel like a relief. But even so, the grieving person needs time to process the death and won’t feel like moving on straight away or won’t want to hear it.
  • “At least it was a quick death” or “At least you had a chance to say goodbye” – Death is incredibly difficult, no matter the form it takes. While you may want to help the person look on the “upside,” then he or she may need some time to live in the grief.

At Cairns Funeral Directors, our funeral directors will treat you with compassion, consideration, respect, and dignity through the most difficult time of losing a loved one. We are happy to give tips on how to handle the funeral and this time in your life.