A comedy of condolences PLUS Guide to offer your sympathies

When somebody passes away and you don’t know what to say to a grieving family member, the best thing to do is to say nothing. Or, if you must say something, then stick to cliches like, “I am sorry for your loss.” Never offer to help if you don’t mean it.

It’s been a month and I am still struggling to come to terms with my loss. On d-day some of your messages and calls sent me into a complete tizzy. Especially, messages like these:

“I just heard some bad news. Is it true?”

I was so tempted to say, ” No no, we are just playing a prank like Ross in
Friends.Please don’t mind it!!” I mean how insensitive can you be calling up the bereaved to “confirm” the news? Try calling somebody else who is close to the family please.

“How? When?”

Day two is not a good time to ask for for details. Whether it was a sudden demise or a terminal illness that someone finally succumbed to, this text message is just not done!

The UCM

The unidentifiable condolence message or UCM as I call it is one of the worst
things. This is just a message from a number that the person can’t identify because they have never interacted before. If you just send a message on WhatsApp with your condolences, how do you expect the person to know who you are?

The first name condolence message is just as bad as the UCM! What are the odds that there may be more than one Padma or Priya or Krishnan in the family! So if you sign off your message with a first name, chances are the family member may not be able to recognise you.

But some of you who are not comfortable with texting may choose to call. So
before you pick the phone and call someone, here are some basic things to keep in mind at a time like this if you don’t want to come across as an insensitive jerk:

Try to figure out who you are speaking to first
Someone asked me whether my dad attended the funeral and I was shocked. When I said dad was the one who passed away, he realised that he was speaking to the daughter!

Don’t be the 6.00 am rooster!
Even if the family is awake, they have a million things to attend to. So call at a decent hour.

Don’t insist on speaking to every member of the family. You have called to offer condolences. Maybe some family member has spoken to you and said another can’t come on the line, then it is time to hang up.

Please don’t say and “What else?”
This is not your regular social call. If you can’t console or offer any help,
keep it brief.

First of all, how do you know that you are close to the family and should offer
your condolences? If you need to know what to do and have not been in touch with the members of the family then wonder no more: You are not close enough no matter how close a blood relation.

Here are the degrees of separation (or closeness depending on how you see it):

1. You are part of the same WhatsApp or Faceebook group.
Please stick to your message on the group and do not message personally unless you know how to offer support.

2. You don’t have the phone number of even one family member
In such a case, if you have are a relative or have been close at some point then you are probably sensitive enough to know what to say. If not, don’t even call.

3. You are a part of the extended family but…
If you need to introduce yourself at a time like this, then save your call for much later. D-day is not a good time to keep anyone’s phone engaged by a lengthy introduction.

4. You are a friend or acquaintance
Call or message only if you can help or genuinely, don’t say or do anything that you think you need to do “just for formality”.

If you are in your 30s or older, chances are that you are going to meet someone who has lost a dear one. Whether the person is a colleague, friend, neighbour or relative, please be sensitive to their loss.

Don’t at any point make it about you. People often say things like, “You didn’t tell me…” Or, “Why didn’t you say anything before?” Or worse like, “I knew a doctor who could have helped..”

This is not the time! The spotlight is not on you. It is on the grieving person.

If you have any doubts on how to offer your sympathies, leave your question in the comments below.

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