Have you ever felt uneasy at a funeral because you weren’t sure what to say to the grieving family? Not to worry. Many people experience this. On today’s Ask a Teacher, Xuan from Vietnam asks:
"Dear VOA, how can I express my sympathy [at a] funeral? Thanks!" -Xuan, Vietnam
I am so sorry for your loss.
That is one example of a common and caring thing you can say.
In Western culture, people traditionally show sympathy at funerals in two ways: by giving flowers and by offering kind words to the people most affected by the death.
Flowers or plants
To show sympathy before or after a funeral, many people have flowers or a plant delivered to the grieving family. Other people bring flowers to the funeral itself.
But some families may ask people to give money to a charity they identify instead.
If the family says what they want, it’s important to follow their wishes.
Next, even though it feels uncomfortable, always speak to the family of the deceased at a funeral, memorial or visitation. Avoid saying more than necessary. You need only a few simple and caring words.
Here are some choices:
- I am so sorry for your loss. Your [mother / husband] was loved by many.
- You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.
- I wish I had the right words. Just know that I care.
- I don’t know how you feel but I’m here to help in any way I can.
- My favorite memory of your [mother / husband] is…
What not to say
There are also a few things to avoid saying at funerals. Here are some examples:
- [She / he] is in a better place now.
- You will feel better soon.
- At least [he / she] lived a long life.
- At least [he / she] didn’t suffer much.
- God only gives you what you can handle.
Though your intentions are good, such comments may be received as uncaring or insensitive.
It’s almost never easy to express sympathy to a person or family for the loss of their loved one. But it is usually worse to say nothing. And saying some of the kind words you learned today will likely be appreciated more than you know.
And that’s Ask a Teacher.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Alice Bryant wrote this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Words in This Story
charity – n. an organization that helps people who are poor, sick or otherwise in need
memorial – n. a ceremony that honors a person who has died
visitation – n. a time before a dead person is buried when people may view the body
handle – v. to deal with a person or situation successfully
intention – n. an aim or purpose