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Mastering the Act of Offering Condolences

Written by Cheryl Cottrill, End of Life Doula with permission from Dana Lacy Amarisa

In the delicate journey of offering condolences, we often find ourselves grappling with the weight of uncertainty when faced with a grieving heart. The questions loom large: What words can truly comfort? What should we avoid? How do we navigate the passage of time and changing emotions?

These inquires led me to a webinar featuring Dana Lacy Amarisa, talking about her book, Condolences Pocket Guide – What to Say and Not to Say to Grievers.

Dana explained that offering condolences to grieving individuals is an art of empathy and compassion. When we find ourselves uncertain about what to say to someone who is grieving, it's important to remember that genuine support comes from the heart. Dana provides valuable guidance on navigating these difficult conversations.

Three fundamental steps:

1. Shift Focus: Begin by shifting your focus from the griever to yourself. This allows you to connect with your own vulnerabilities, fostering a deeper understanding of the emotions involved.

2. Kind Curiosity: Look at your own situation with kindness and curiosity, acknowledging your pain or discomfort. This self-acceptance enables a more authentic acceptance of your friend’s grieving process and helps you be attuned to their needs.

3. Bridge with Empathy: Take the leap and bridge over to the griever. Overcome the fear of saying the wrong thing, as your genuine presence and empathy hold more significance than any discomfort you may feel.

Listening plays a crucial role in offering meaningful condolences. It can be easy to fall into patterns of selective listening, where we're merely waiting for a chance to share our thoughts. Even active listening--a practice used in counseling of hearing and reflecting back the emotions conveyed—can be too heady for someone deep in grief. Instead, aim for deep listening, which goes even further, creating a profound connection by allowing the griever to feel truly heard and understood.

Avoiding unhealthy forms of condolences is equally important. Refrain from imposing spiritual beliefs, unsolicited advice, question-based condolences, or attempting to shift focus with pep talks and silver linings. These well-intentioned efforts often unintentionally dismiss the griever's experience and feelings.

When it comes to writing condolence notes, remember that your presence matters more than any perfect words.

A few steps to guide you:

· Authenticity: Focus on the person, not abstract ideas. Offer your heart and soul, being the person they know and love.

· Embrace Vulnerability: Be willing to feel uncertain or "stupid." Approach the process with kindness and curiosity, allowing your true emotions to guide you.

· Share Genuinely: Share from your heart, using the principles of the three fundamental steps.

· Practice and Patience: Crafting a meaningful message takes time. Don't hesitate to write multiple drafts, experimenting with different expressions of support.

· Visual or Auditory Approach: Tailor your writing process to your strengths – jot down thoughts visually or express them audibly.

· Persistence: Embrace the challenge. Remember, the difficulty you feel while writing is a sign that you're authentically engaging with the process.

· Step Away: Sometimes, taking a break and returning to your writing with fresh eyes can lead to even more heartfelt words.

Misunderstood losses, like miscarriages or marginalized experiences, can compound the pain for grievers. Expressions of support and compassion are especially crucial in these situations. By acknowledging the specific struggles they face, you provide an extra layer of empathy that can make a world of difference.

Each word we choose, each embrace of vulnerability, and each genuine gesture, will remind grievers that they are seen, heard and held. That is a beautiful gift to give to a grieving heart!

Dana’s Condolences Pocket Guide is full of wise words and advice for anyone wanting to offer condolences in a meaningful way and I believe should be a must-read for everyone to help offer more understanding and support to those grieving in our lives.

Condolences Pocket Guide can be ordered through your local bookstore or ordered online at The ISBN number is 9781706845263. To inquire about Dana’s workshops contact her at, or visit her website,

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