By Suzie Kolber
You see her softly sobbing in her cubicle. You’ve heard the story that her father recently passed away, but you don’t know her very well. You only say “hi” when you come in or when you pass her a new file. What will you say when you pass by her today?
You’ve noticed how he avoids everyone lately, and he comes in late to work. You know his wife died a few weeks ago, and he’s just not the same. You haven’t had a reason to talk to him, but you have a meeting scheduled this afternoon with just the two of you. Should you broach the subject or pretend everything is normal?
These situations are awkward for the most eloquent people. For the average person, it can make them uncomfortable to be around someone who has suffered a loss. The question of whether to say something and if so, what should you say comes to everyone at one time or another. If you follow these guidelines, it won’t have to be so awkward to express condolences to an acquaintance.
Remember that if you feel you should say something and don’t, it will be obvious to the other person that you’re avoiding the subject. They will feel even more uncomfortable and alone. Instead, if the situation seems to call for some kind of expression of sympathy, do it.
You can keep the comments short and casual. In the first instance, you could simply say something like this:
“I heard about your loss and I wanted to express my sympathy. Let me know if you need more time to work on this file.”
The second situation calls for something a little more direct. Maybe you’re the supervisor or at least a co-worker involved in a project with the guy whose wife died. You need to broach the subject because it will be obvious if you’re ignoring it. And face it, he probably knows he’s not acting the same and he knows other people realize it as well. You can handle this situation by saying:
“I know this is a difficult time for you. I’m sorry for what you’re going through, and let me know if there’s any way I can help. I can take on more work for this project or give you an extension to the deadline.”
By offering solid suggestions for ways you can help, you take the focus off the death of the loved one and put it on helping them out. Many times, people don’t know what help is needed or what to ask for, and you offering a specific way of assisting them enables them to figure out how to deal with their grief.
Avoid trite comments just for the sake of saying something. You don’t need to say a lot to express your condolences, but make them words that count. Remember that not saying anything can make the situation more awkward than anything you might say. Even the most basic sentiments can help the person feel better and allow them the freedom to work through their grief with your support.
Suzie Kolber is a writer at obituarieshelp.org . The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.