Losing a loved one is a deeply painful experience. In the face of overwhelming grief, condolences seem insignificant. But as anyone who has lost a dear friend or family member will tell you, the right words of sympathy can provide tremendous comfort. The question, of course, is “What are the right words?” — especially if you’re a coworker or casual relation who doesn’t know the aggrieved well?
Taking your coworker as an example, the first — and perhaps most important — thing to remember is that they are going through what may well be the most difficult time of their life. Be subtle, and do not make it about you. Sympathy messages for a coworker that include phrases like, “I know what you’re going through,” or “I’m grieving with you” are not just ineffectual at providing comfort, they can feel downright cruel to their recipient. After all, can anyone know what they’re going through or grieve as they are? Mourning is different for everyone, and its depth depends on the relationship the bereaved had with the deceased. Surely a coworker does not grieve a colleague’s husband as deeply as the colleague herself.
With this in mind, we offer the below guide to sympathy messages for a grieving coworker. They balance support and kindness with respect for the boundaries of your relationship.
Condolence Messages for People You Don’t Know Well
“I can’t imagine what you’re going through right now. You have my deepest condolences.”
If your coworker is someone you aren’t close with, it can be difficult to find the right words to acknowledge their loss. That said, offering condolences is, without question, preferable to saying nothing. A simple expression of sympathy can go a long way.
It might sound counterintuitive, but verbalizing how impossible it is to express the depths of their grief is an empathetic means of showing support. If you’ve ever experienced grief, you know that some losses surpass the limits of language; the hole they leave behind can’t be put into words. Acknowledging that impossibility in your sympathy message validates your coworker’s grief and can help them to feel seen and understood during an exceedingly tough time.
“My sincere sympathy for your loss. You have my deepest sympathies.”
This sympathy message is respectful and straightforward, expressing condolences at a time of loss without pretending at false intimacy. It lets the grieving person know that you are aware of and empathize with their loss, that their grief isn’t unseen, and that they aren’t alone. Whether in a condolence card or alongside a group sympathy gift, it acknowledges the pain of losing a wonderful person without disregarding personal boundaries.
“My thoughts are with you during this difficult period. You have my heartfelt sympathy.”
This note acknowledges that grieving the loss of a loved one is a journey. Grief can last for a very long time — weeks, months, and even years in some cases, especially after losing a dear friend, spouse, or family member. Additionally, grief affects the whole family, amplifying each individual family member’s sadness. Your coworker’s loss may not just be a difficult day or moment but a difficult period that won’t be healed soon. The kind words in this short condolence message acknowledge that. With this sympathy note, you’re also letting them know that you’re there, you care, and they aren’t alone in their time of sorrow.
Sincere Condolences if You Knew the Person Who Passed
“________ will be deeply missed. You have my heartfelt condolences.”
If you knew not just your coworker but also your coworker’s family member who passed, use words of sympathy to acknowledge how much you, too, will miss them. Grief is a hard time that can be deeply isolating. Letting the grieving person know that their friend, spouse, parent, or other beloved will be missed by many can be of great comfort.
“________ left such an impact on the world. Their loss is heartbreaking.”
If you knew the person who passed, acknowledging the impact they had on you can comfort their loved ones in a number of ways. By validating the significance of the deceased’s presence in the world, in your sympathy message for your coworker you subtly remind them that their loved one’s contributions and actions leave a legacy that lives on. You also show that their loved one was an amazing person who played a part in making many happy memories for people. Sharing the positive impact that their loved one had on the world can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to your coworker’s grief, which in turn, can help them find closure.
Share a fond memory in a time of grief.
Another way to support a coworker whose loved one you knew is by sharing a fond memory you have of said loved one. It can be strange and wonderful to learn new things about the people we love from others, especially after they’ve passed. Let your coworker know that their loved one impacted you and that you’re grieving them, too — it will provide more comfort than you realize. In fact, the ritual of sharing memories and bonding over loss is the reason human beings have funerals and wakes. Celebrating the life of a loved one and seeing how many people cared for them is a vital step in the grieving process. By sharing good memories of the deceased person, you comfort your coworker in a manner that humans have been doing for centuries.
If You and Your Coworker Are Religious
“He/She is with God now.”
If you and your coworker are religious, leaning into your spiritual beliefs is a kind way to provide support at their time of loss. Invoking the afterlife can be an immense source of comfort for the bereaved, as it suggests that their loved ones continue on in a form that, though unseen, is still present. Knowing loved ones are not truly gone and that we will see them again one day sparks hope and peace during the most difficult times. Just remember that beliefs about the afterlife vary. Crafting sympathy messages for a coworker that respect their specific beliefs is important here.
“I’m praying for you in this challenging time.”
Short, simple, and to the point, letting your religious coworker know that you’re praying for them is a kind and unobtrusive way to lend support. When we go through a difficult time, knowing that friends, family, and even coworkers are there for us is vital. Sympathy messages for a coworker that acknowledge they’re in your thoughts and prayers can really can go a long way.
Provide an act of service and caring thoughts.
Sympathy messages show support for your coworker, but actions speak louder than words. Don’t be afraid to offer help to your coworker through an act of service. Grief is physically exhausting and emotionally draining, and it leaves little time for managing the tedium of the lives for whom time marches on. At a difficult time, it’s shocking how much help with even the simplest of tasks can mean. Acts of service include running errands, providing food, and caring for the kids. By offering to cook a meal or cover an extra shift at work, you can help to alleviate some of the practical burdens and responsibilities that your coworker faces, allowing them time to focus on their emotional needs and the process of grieving.
Sympathy Gifts During a Trying Time
Another gesture to show your coworker that you care is giving them a tasteful sympathy gift. Send your coworker a potted plant, which will bring life and beauty to their home at a time when darkness seems to be everywhere. Consider making a donation in the deceased person’s name to a charity or cause that was meaningful to them. These gifts are tasteful ways to express your condolences if the right words elude you.
When sharing a sympathy message with a coworker, there are several important things to remember. First, everyone experiences grief differently. Your colleague’s grieving process might not look anything like what you’d expect, and that’s okay — it doesn’t have to in order to be legitimate and honest. Second, grief can be closely tied to religious beliefs, so pay attention to and respect your coworker’s ideas about death, the afterlife, and prayer. Make sure your sympathy message for a coworker is respectful of their specific beliefs — when in doubt, it’s best to go with a non-religious message. The important thing is to let them know that you’re here for them, no matter what.