How to express condolences
Speak to and validate their loss- regardless of what you feel about the measure of the loss in relation to the grief expressed.
Offer them your condolences—“ I am so sorry for you”,
“I am sorry for your loss”
“I heard about your pet’s death, I am so sorry”.
Be careful not to tell them how they are feeling ‘ you must feel so awful’, ‘this must be horrible for you’
Of course, possibly they do feel bad and it is awful but the point of offering our condolences is we offer it as a meeting point to those for whom the loss is the most direct and active and let them define the terms of their loss to us.
Most often, people just want to be met in the presence of the loss and sadness they feel.
Less words are often better because they leave ‘space’ for feelings.
Death is an ending- it is challenging to find the right language, the right words because there often just aren’t readymade responses to someone’s loss.
Avoid, ‘ I know how your feel’ and then launching into your own story. This is a valuable response, but not as the first point of contact. Keep your language general- loosely describing the perimeters of their loss and leaving plenty of space for your friend or family member to tell you how they feel.
What you are sure of is that they loved their pet - this you know.
Encourage people to tell you how they feel. Nod your head, listen , affirm that you are hearing them- listen- actively and unconditionally (as possible!).
It is also fine for your phone call or conversation to be short- e.g “Hello, I just wanted to say I am so sorry that your pet has died. I know how much you loved them and what a huge part of your life they were.
I’m sure you are feeling many things. I just wanted to let you know that I am truly sorry for your loss and that I am here for you.
If you want the conversation to continue, ask them a question, or listen for how they respond to your words.
Ask their permission to retell the story of their pets death to you-‘Can you tell me what happened?
For some people this is very important and comforting as they try to make sense of it in the days and weeks after the death. For others, they may say no, not now.
If they start to cry on the phone, affirm that, just be there and witness their feelings.
Some people just aren’t the talking kinds and for them, less is definitely more- find the right ways that will allow them to receive your support- a letter, a card dropped into their letterbox, an email, bunch of flowers, drop over a meal,
Make a date to ‘do’ something and understand it is not a measure of the friendship if they do not confide in you how much they miss their pet.
At All times, do your best to speak to them in the way you would like someone to talk to you at a time where you are experiencing great sadness , vulnerability.
Author Victoria Spence