Sympathy Etiquette:
Avoiding Their Frozen Stares


Sympathy Etiquette Avoids Frozen Stares Sympathy Etiquette is Key to
Avoiding Frozen Stares

Taking a moment to examine some general 'dos and donts' and learning about sympathy etiquette can help you avoid the kind of frozen stare we all dread receiving from grieving family and friends.

There is nothing so unnerving than to utter words of solace only to have them received in awkward slience when all you want is to comfort. When unsure, it's easy for sympathetic words and actions to land upon the hearer in an unexpected way.

This page contains a few general suggestions on what to do and what not to do when talking with a friend or family member who is in mourning.

What to Do

Sympathy etiquette is all about applying common sense. When speaking with a grieving family member or friend, it is best to:

  • Listen without being judgemental
  • Allow them to share their story without interrupting, as many times as they need
  • Regularly ask how they are doing
  • Know that it will be one step forward two steps back and that they will experience emotional setbacks
  • Stay in touch with them in the days, weeks, and months after their loss (the Tru-friend Sympathy Gift support package makes it easier to stay connected)
  • Repeat your offers of assistance, even if they say no the first time
  • Let them know you are there for them
  • Allow periods of silence - ignore feelings of awkwardness
  • Share with them your wonderful memories of earlier times, or the person who has died
  • Consider what they are feeling and help them to express themselves about their new reality
  • Know that your friend will always regret the loss but will learn to live with it
  • Help to celebrate the life they have lost
  • Share that there is no right or wrong way to mourn, and that everyone`s experience is different
  • Help them establish rituals that may help them get through the tough early stages (such as meeting once a week or every few weeks to talk over a Starbuck`s coffee)
  • If your friend or family member is experiencing thoughts of suicide, you have an ethical responsibility to refer them to a mental health professional


What NOT to Do

Sympathy etiquette is also about avoiding doing the things that would make you cringe if you were in their situation. When helping a friend deal with loss, it`s best NOT to:

  • Impose a timetable for them to feel better - remember no timeline is the right timeline
  • Expect them to feel any particular emotion or respond to their loss in any particular way
  • Use euphemisms that tend to deny the extent of their loss
  • Tell them that you know exactly how they feel; We can empathize but no one can experience another`s suffering in quite the same way
  • Try to "fix" it or make it all better, no person can do that
  • Reminder

    Sympathy Etiquette is All About Common Sense

  • Set them up on a date or get a new pet for them without their say so. Only they know when they are ready to move on
  • Make comparisons between other`s experiences. Comparisons are attempts to minimize their loss and what they are feeling and is more about forcing them to behave 'the right way'
  • Encourage them to medicate their pain (eg., with alcohol)
  • Say time heals everything or that the person or animal who died is in a better place.
  • Berate, give advice, or give pep talks when they are down - let the grieving process run its course naturally.

Keeping these few general sympathy etiquette rules in mind will help you avoid the common pitfalls that often lead to misunderstanding and to those 'I can't believe you just said that' stares.




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