by Liz Walter
It can often be difficult to know what to say to someone we know who has experienced loss, illness or another painful event, and even harder if we have to do it in another language. Today’s post looks at phrases we use to express sympathy in a sincere and empathetic way.
Choosing appropriate words will of course depend on how well we know the person concerned, and also the type of event and how upset we think that person is likely to be.
Let’s start with death. The following are common phrases, but are very formal, so may be more suitable for someone who is not a close friend:
I am writing to express my sincere condolences on the death of your (wife/son/grandmother, etc.).
Please accept our deepest sympathies.
People often try to avoid the words ‘death’ or ‘die’, and a very common way of doing that is to speak about someone’s loss or sad news:
I was so sorry to hear about your loss/the sad news about your sister.
When someone has died, it is usual to say something nice about the person if you knew them. We often talk about our memories of them:
Your dad/brother was such a lovely person/was always kind to me, etc.
I have so many wonderful memories of your dad.
If you didn’t know the person who has died, you might say something about the feelings of the person you are writing to:
I know how much Peter meant to you.
It’s never easy to lose a parent.
I can’t imagine how you must feel.
We might also talk about things that may comfort them:
I hope you can find solace in the fact that … (formal)
I’m sure you will take comfort from …
A more general way to express sympathy, for example if someone tells you they are ill or that they’ve lost their job, is simply:
I’m really sorry to hear that.
If you know the person very well, you might say something much more informal, such as:
That really sucks.
For less serious events, you might say something such as:
That’s a shame.
What a pity!
And finally, when we write to someone or speak to them to offer sympathy, we often offer support of some kind:
I want you to know that we’re here to support you.
We are thinking of you at this difficult time.
I’m here for you if you need anything. (rather informal)
Do let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. (rather informal)