Online Condolences Etiquette: What to Write & How to Send


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If someone you know is facing the loss of a loved one, it’s standard etiquette to share your condolences. In our newfound digital age, it’s increasingly popular to share your condolences online. Some companies like GatheringUs even specialize in virtual funeral and memorial services.

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Sharing kind words and paying respects online isn’t always the same as doing so in person. Because you can’t always determine how the person on the other end of the screen feels, you’ll need to tread carefully. 

There are a lot of tips you should keep in mind when paying respects from afar. Navigating loss online is never easy, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. 

Any amount of support you can share goes a long way. In most cases, people just want to know they’re not alone. In this guide, we’ll share the basics of online condolences etiquette. Here’s what to write and how to send your kind words. 

7 Quick Tips for Online Condolence Etiquette

When you’re faced with someone else’s grief online, it can be an upsetting experience. You might have experienced a similar loss and feel a wave of empathy, or you might not be sure what steps to take next. Follow these quick tips for sharing your online condolences. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

1. Take your time

First and foremost, don’t rush into leaving a message too fast. It’s natural to feel like you need to post something right then and there, but taking a moment to consider how (and when) to respond is a smart move. 

It’s not always obvious, but you don’t need to respond to every memorial you come across. Consider your relationship with the individual and the deceased. Do your best to determine what boundaries are important before you post. 

2. Limit your messages

If you were close to the deceased or their family, it’s tempting to respond to all of the memorial posts you come across. Instead, avoid “serial posting.” This means you don’t post on each post or swamp a single memorial page with your own messages. 

When you post too much, you take away attention from the family. This could be a burden to those who feel like they need to respond to each message. Instead of being a “serial poster,” choose a single or handful of posts to respond to. 

3. Don’t make your own post

Unless you’re in the direct family of the deceased, you shouldn’t be the one to make the first post about your loved one’s death. You should leave a few days for the immediate family to oversee details related to the funeral and so on before you take any action on social media. 

If you were to post something on your own profile too soon, you might have the best of intentions. However, what happens if a family member sees this before the family had an opportunity to notify them? This could be heartbreaking. Never be the first to post a memorial on social media unless you’re very close to the deceased. 

4. Keep it short and sweet

You’ve likely come across a range of online memorial messages. Some are simple messages offering words of support, while others seem like a draft of a full-length novel. 

No matter your relationship with the family or the deceased, keep things short and simple. The family doesn’t have time to read through complex messages, and this isn’t the place to share every aspect of your grief. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

5. Avoid comparing grief

Everyone has experienced some form of loss throughout their life. If a friend recently lost a grandparent, for example, you might remember how you felt when you lost your aunt last year. However, no matter how much it seems to fit the situation, don’t compare your grief. 

You never know how someone feels or how deeply they were affected by someone’s death. Comparing your own grief and feelings to someone else’s loss can come across as inconsiderate. 

6. Don’t “like” the post

If you’re responding to a social media post, it’s easy to “like” or leave another emoji reaction. While “liking” used to be a sign of support, this is no longer the case on platforms like Facebook with multiple “reactions” you can leave.

Liking the message could be seen in the wrong light. Instead, leave a heart emoji or avoid any reaction altogether. 

7. Follow up

Last but not least, don’t forget to follow up. If you’re close to the grieving person, follow up through a private message, sympathy card, or phone call. Offer your support and let them know you’re always there for them. 

While posting on Facebook or another social media platform is a great first step, it shouldn’t be your only step. Go above and beyond to show you’re concerned about what they’re going through. 

How to Send Online Condolences

Now that you know the best practices for offering support online, let’s talk about how to send your condolences digitally. This isn’t all that different from paying respects in person. 

» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Step 1: Respond to the online memorial or post

First, be sure to respond to the online memorial or social media post. If there’s a an online funeral guestbook, leave a message here as well. This should be your first step. 

When you leave kind words on a public message board or social media post, you acknowledge the grieving person’s pain. They know their message was read by people they trust, and it’s clear they have a wide net of support available. 

Step 2: Follow up

After you’ve responded to an online memorial or post, it’s time to follow up. You should always follow up if you’re close to the grieving family or the deceased. You can do this in any of the following ways:

  • Private message: To keep it simple, send a private message directly to the grieving person through a social media platform. Let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Email: Another option is to send a condolences email. 
  • Sympathy card: For a traditional choice, opt for a sympathy card or ecard to show your support to the family. 
  • Phone call: Though simple, a phone call can go a long way. Picking up the phone and checking in is an effective way to pay your respects.

Step 3: Go above and beyond (if appropriate)

If you weren’t particularly close to the family or the deceased, you might need to do this extra step. However, if you’d like to offer additional support, this is the time to do it. You can do any of these things digitally to go above and beyond for the bereaved:

  • Attend the funeral: If invited, be sure to attend the funeral or virtual funeral using Zoom.
  • Send flowers: You can easily send flowers online. They can be sent to the funeral home or your loved one. 
  • Gift cards: There are a number of online gift cards that would be appropriate as a sympathy gift. Some common options are food delivery or essential stores (grocery, gas, etc.).
  • Charitable donations: You might also choose to give to a charity in the deceased’s honor. 

Finally, don’t expect a response even if you do any of the above. The grieving family is busy making arrangements, and they might not have the time or energy to respond to every phone call, message, or gift right away. Be patient and understanding. 

Examples of Online Condolence Messages

Because it can be hard to find the right words to say, these online condolence messages are an easy fit for most situations. Remember, keep things short and focused on your sympathy. 

  • I’m thinking of you during this difficult time. I know how much [Name] meant to you, and I am deeply sorry for your loss. I’m here if you need anything at all. 
  • [Name] was a truly exceptional person, and their legacy will never be forgotten. My deepest sympathy to you and your family.
  • My heart goes out to you during this time of sorrow. Please let me know how I can help. 
  • [Name] will be deeply missed by everyone. I am so sorry I cannot be with you today. You have my sincerest sympathy. 
  • Words cannot say enough. Know that I am with you, and I wish you the greatest strength through this painful loss. 

You can also include quotes, prayers, poems, or other kind words with your message. If you have any photos or specific memories of the deceased, these are also common to share on social media or online memorial sites

Offer Your Sympathy Digitally

Nowadays, it seems like our entire lives are spent online. This helps bring people together in times of crisis, such as after the loss of a family member. If you’re trying to support someone currently experiencing grief after a death in the family, you can offer your condolences online with these steps and tips above. 

Taking a bit of time to consider your response when paying respects online ensures you don’t overstep any boundaries. It’s not always easy to know what is or isn’t acceptable online, so tread carefully to ensure you’re only offering the best possible support to those in need. 

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