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We need to talk about grief – tackling the last big taboo

When Annie’s mum died, one of the hardest parts of the experience was seeing her friends and extended family paralysed by their fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Saddened by this experience, she decided to share her story, and the stories of others, in order to shed light on the emotions felt by the bereaved and how best to support them. Here Annie shares some practical tips on offering your condolences.


‘My condolences’: How to write a letter to a bereaved friend


When someone you know has just been bereaved it is natural to feel compelled to write them a letter that will help in some way. But what happens? You sit down and immediately feel stuck. How on earth does one find the words to offer comfort to someone whose loved-one has just died? It is a dilemma we will all face, probably more than once in our lifetime. And, of course, what is right for one person will not necessarily be right for another – factors such as the age of the deceased, their relationship to the bereaved and the type of death can have a big impact on what your bereaved friend will need from their supporters. But there are a few pointers that might help to steer you in the right direction.


  1. Keep it personal. Even if you don’t know the bereaved person very well, avoid stock phrases like ‘my condolences’ and ‘sorry for your loss’. They don’t sound genuine and simply increase the sense of isolation that the bereaved person already feels.
  2. Be honest. Instead of using stock phrases, really examine what the news makes you think or feel and say that, or as close to it as is appropriate. For example, if it is ‘I really don’t know what to say’, then say that. Tell them you can’t imagine what it’s like. Bring your personality into the letter so the bereaved person can feel a real connection.
  3.  Share memories. If possible, share some of your memories of the deceased. The letters that stand out are often the ones that include some kind of detail, so be specific about what you will miss about the person, or what you remember doing with them. If you didn’t know them, perhaps write about things your friend told you about them.
  4. End with an offering. Think about what you sincerely feel able to offer your friend and tell them in the letter. They will get tons of letters saying, ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do’, but rarely will they take anyone up on this. If you suggest something specific, you immediately take the responsibility off the bereaved person to think of something you can do to help, and simultaneously reassure them that support is available.


For more advice on how to help comfort your friend, read We Need to Talk About Grief: How to be a friend to the one who’s left behind by Annie Broadbent.