Category Archives: Sympathy Etiquette

Expressing Condolences during the Coronavirus Pandemic

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To even suggest that these are difficult times is a classic understatement. We all know and feel the challenges and pain of Covid-19. In one way or another, each of us has been affected. We are all mourning and searching for ways of expressing condolences.  We have lost family members, close friends, colleagues, coworkers or acquaintances. If we have not personally suffered the pain of loss, we know someone who has.

Helping those who are mourning has become complicated since we cannot gather to say goodbye, we cannot embrace the bereaved family and we cannot come together as a community to celebrate and remember a life well-lived. All that being said, I do not mean to imply that there is nothing you can do to reach out to people who are grieving. There are numerous ways of expressing condolences and showing that you care.

Attend the funeral or memorial service.

If the service is conducted in a place, such as a graveside, where you can social distance and wear a mask, by all means, go. Even if you cannot speak to the family, you can sign the guest book so they will know that you were with them.

Pick up the phone and call.

During this time of isolation, a phone call and the sound of another human voice may be just what the grieving person needs. If they do not feel like talking, they can decline your call. They will know and appreciate your effort. If you connect, do not attempt to be a grief counselor. Your job is to ask how they are feeling and listen to what they have to say.

Food is always appreciated.

There may not be the usual large family crowds around, but someone is going to need to eat. If you find out that enough food is already being provided, wait a week before offering to take a meal. It may be needed more later. For fear of spreading the virus and to practice social distancing, advise the family that you are coming. Call when you arrive and leave your nourishing gift at the door.

With today’s technology, there is no excuse for remaining silent.

While I am not a fan of using the Internet to send condolences, it is better than nothing at all. In spite of my aversion to emailing, texting, or using forms of social media to convey your sympathy, there are those for whom it is their preferred means of communication.  Options for expressing your condolences online include 1) writing a message in a guestbook published on the funeral home’s website, 2) sending a sympathetic email, 3) texting your acknowledgment—although that should be the channel of last resort. Online communication platforms are endless.

If you are a loyal subscriber to this blog, it will come as no surprise that when you cannot do it in person, my preferred manner of conveying sympathy is the time-honored handwritten note.

Nothing trumps that. If you want your kindness to make a lasting impression and offer the most solace, find your note or correspondence cards, your nicest fountain pen, your forever stamps and share your thoughts on paper with the one who is grieving. Those who have suffered a loss often save those notes for a long time and bring them out at anniversary dates and other times of remembrance.

During this time of Covid-19, people who are mourning need support more than ever.

They are often alone having to quarantine. They need love and support. Whatever you decide to do, do it immediately and make a promise to yourself that you will not let it end there. Go beyond keeping these people in your thoughts—keep them in your actions. Continue to stay in touch and do the little things that can mean so much.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com to learn how her virtual presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your associates add the polish that builds profits through these tough times.

Acknowledging Loss in the Workplace

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Acknowledging loss in the workplace is difficult. When a colleague, co-worker or business associate loses a family member, do you find yourself wondering what to do? Are you afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing? Often the result of uncertainty is that you end up doing and saying nothing and later regretting it. A business owner who attended one of my presentations confessed that when faced with the loss of an employee or an employees’ family member, he found himself hiding behind “busyness”, ignoring the death because he didn’t know what to do. Don’t let that be you.

Let these tips on the etiquette of sympathy be your guide to acknowledging loss:

When someone you work with suffers a loss, the kindest thing you can do is to acknowledge the passing. It is just as important to show your sorrow in a business relationship as it is in a personal one. Don’t withhold your support because you are uncomfortable.  It’s not about you.

Attend the funeral or visitation even when you did not know the person who died.  You are there for your colleague or friend—the survivor who is suffering. If you can’t make the funeral or memorial service, go by the funeral home and sign the register book. Another option is to leave an acknowledgement in the online guest book.

Acknowledge family members who are present. Introduce yourself and speak to as many as you can, not just the ones you already know.  Explain your relationship to the deceased. No one should have to guess who you are and what your connection may be.

When you see the family, talk about the person who has passed. Share your favorite memories with the family.  This is a time when people need to hear stories about the person they have lost.  Laughter and happy stories, as well as ones of praise, are healing.

Write a note of condolence in addition to attending the service.  People will keep those handwritten expressions of sympathy and treasure them for years.

Whatever you do, don’t send your sympathy via e-mail unless you are in Outer Mongolia and that is your only option.  Electronic mail lacks the personal touch that this painful time deserves. In today’s online world, there is usually a guest book on the funeral home website where you can also express your thoughts in the proper context.

Offer to help where you can in order to leave the family free to grieve.  The most mundane chores or errands can be a tremendous help. Whatever you do, try not to say, “If there is anything you need….” That’s not helpful at all since those grieving have no idea what to ask for. Suggest things that you are willing and able to do.

Once the funeral is over, stay in touch.  Reaching out as time goes by can be more meaningful than your initial response at the time of the death.

Forget what people say about a year of grief—grief lasts longer than a year. Mark the date of the death on your calendar. Call, visit or send a note on the anniversary of the loss.

Part of building relationships can be sharing the saddest of times.  If you know what is expected when acknowledging loss, you will be more confident and more likely to do what serves others best.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, keynote speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-604-0080 or visit her website: LydiaRamsey.com. Learn how her presentations, workshops and resources can help you and your employees add the polish that builds profits.

The Etiquette of Sympathy: When a Colleague or Client Suffers a Loss

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one burning candle decoration against black background

When a colleague, co-worker or business associate loses a family member, do you find yourself stuck on the etiquette of sympathy? Do you wonder how you should handle this kind of situation?  Do you worry that you will use the wrong words or that you will intrude on the other person’s grief?

As a result, how often have you ended up not doing or saying anything and later regretting it?

When someone you work with suffers a loss, the kindest thing you can do is to acknowledge the event and show that you care.  It is just as important to show your sorrow in a business relationship as it is in a personal one. Don’t withhold your support because you are uncomfortable.  It’s not about you.

When you see the family, don’t be afraid to mention the name of the deceased. In spite of what you may think, this doesn’t make people feel any worse. You are honoring their loss.

Acknowledge all the family members. Introduce yourself and spend time with them, not just the people you know.  No one should have to guess who you are and what your connection is to their loss.  Be prepared to introduce yourself and explain your relation to the deceased.

Share your fondest memories of the deceased with the family.  This is a time when people need to hear stories about the person they have just lost.  Laughter and happy stories are healing and are in no way disrespectful to anyone.

It is not unusual to go the funeral or visitation when you did not know the person who died.  You are going for your colleague or friend, the survivor, who is suffering.

Be prepared to listen.  The bereaved relative may want to share feelings. A lengthy verbal response from you is not required. All that is needed is an available ear and a sympathetic nod.  It’s all right to say, “How are you feeling?”  When you do, be sure you listen for the answer.

Attend the service if you can, no matter what is on your schedule.  It is comforting for family to see the people who care about their loss.

Write a note of condolence in addition to attending the service.  People will keep those handwritten expressions of sympathy and treasure them for many years.

Whatever you do, don’t send your sympathy via e-mail unless you are in Outer Mongolia and that is your only option.  Electronic mail lacks the personal touch that this painful time deserves.

Offer to help in whatever way you can in order to leave the family free to grieve.  The most mundane chores like walking the dog or mowing the grass can be a tremendous help.

Once the funeral is over, stay in touch.  Reaching out as time goes by can be more meaningful than your initial response at the time of the death.

Forget what people say about a year of grief—grief lasts longer than a year. Mark the date of the death on your calendar. Call, visit or send a note on the anniversary of the loss.

Part of building business relationships can be sharing the saddest of times.  If you know what is expected, you will be more confident and more likely to do what serves others best.

Photo from Savannah magazine

Photo from Savannah magazine

Hire Lydia to work with your staff to improve customer service and employee relations through the use of those priceless and often over-looked soft skills called manners. Lydia is the “unstuffy” business etiquette expert who helps individuals and organizations add the polish that builds profits. We’re talking about your bottom line here.

Since 1996, countless people have benefited from her wisdom through keynotes, seminars and conference breakout sessions.  Her Southern charm and sense of humor have made her a sought-after speaker and consultant.

Based in Savannah, Georgia, Lydia is available for national, regional and local speaking and training engagements. She has suitcase; will travel.

Contact her via email at lydia@lydiaramsey.com or call 912-604-0080. Sign up for her free monthly newsletter and visit her website, lydiaramsey.com