When Is the Right Time to Offer Condolences?

When someone you know—a friend, extended family member, colleague, or acquaintance—has experienced the death of someone close to him or her, it is a natural impulse to want to reach out and offer sympathy, condolences, and support. While it can be difficult to know just what to say to someone who has experienced a death, many people who have experienced a death appreciate being contacted. Letting the bereaved know that you are thinking of him or her and that you care can mean a lot. To this end, even a simple note will suffice.

Determining the best time to contact the bereaved generally depends on your relationship to the bereaved or the person who died.

If you are very close with the person who died or the bereaved

As a general rule, the closer your relationship to the bereaved, the sooner you should contact him or her. For many people who have experienced a death, it can be helpful to know that their closest friends and family are thinking of them and are available to help.

If you are more casually acquainted with the person who died or the bereaved

If your relationship to the bereaved or the person who died is more casual, it may be best to wait until the wake, funeral or memorial service, or after the funeral to reach out. This is generally the case with professional colleagues and associates, community and religious organization members, and other acquaintances.

That said, if you are thinking about contacting the bereaved or would like to offer your condolences, you should absolutely do so. For many people it can be a great comfort to know that friends are thinking of them in such a difficult time.

When and how should you reach out?

The closer your relationship to the bereaved or the person who died, the sooner you'll want to reach out.

  • If you are a close friend or relative: Call or text immediately, find a time to visit the bereaved at home, and continue to stay in touch on a daily basis.
  • If you are a casual friend or extended friend: Send an email or text immediately and follow up after the funeral.
  • If you are a colleague or acquaintance: Send an email or handwritten note immediately.
  • If you are a friend of a friend: Send an email or handwritten note at your convenience.

For advice on choosing the best form of communication to use, see our article How to Offer Condolences.

For tips on what to say and not say to someone who has experienced a loss, see our article How to Express Sympathy: What to Say and What Not to Say.

Comments