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How to Express Sympathy & Grief While Social Distancing

by Linnea Crowther

One of the most basic impulses when someone we care about is grieving is to give them a hug. It’s a very human thing to do — seeking and giving comfort through touch. 

But as we fight the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, hugging is no longer recommended outside your own household, and we can’t gather in person for large funerals and memorial services. So how do you express your sympathy when a friend or loved one is grieving? 

Here are some suggestions for sending your sympathy even while you’re social distancing during COVID-19: 


Send a card

The mail is still running these days, just like it always does, and you can send a sympathy card to someone who’s grieving. You don’t even need to have a card or a stamp on hand — you can choose a card from Legacy’s online selection of sympathy cards, type in your note and the recipient’s mailing address, and it will be sent to them. Or you can write and send a card from home. If you do send your own card, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands before writing it. 

Pick up the phone or make a video call

You may not be able to hug a grieving friend in person and tell them how sorry you are for their loss, but you can still share sympathy voice-to-voice. It’s as simple as making a phone call — or you can make a video call using Facetime, Skype, or any other video call app that you both have installed on your phones or computers. In the difficult days following a death, it might be a good idea to start by reaching out with a text or email before calling, to make sure the person is ready for a phone call or video call. 

Sign the Guest Book

In 2020, we’re truly discovering the power of virtual connections. As much as we love to see each other in person, we’re finding that our online communities can keep us going through these hard times. One place where you can gather virtually after a death is the Legacy Guest Book. The Guest Book is part of an obituary published online through one of Legacy’s affiliate newspapers and funeral homes. There, you can offer condolences, share favorite memories, upload a photo, and read what others have said. Start here to search for a Guest Book. 

Forward a photo

If you have a favorite photo of the deceased, others who are missing them would probably love to see it. It’s easy to share a photo via email or text, especially if it’s a digital photo. If the photo you want to share is a print, you can take a picture of it with your smart phone or digital camera and share that. The photo will feel even more special if you include a note with your memories of the time it was taken or a favorite story about the deceased.  

Have a memorial tree planted

One way to honor someone’s memory is to plant a tree in their name. You can do this even if you don’t have a place to plant a tree or you’re unable to do the physical work involved. A Legacy Memorial Tree can be planted in someone’s honor by certified arborists in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest. When you choose one, five, or 10 trees to be planted in someone’s honor, you’ll receive a digital certificate via email. You can let the family of the deceased know about the planting by printing the certificate and mailing it to them, or you can forward them the digital certificate. 

Send a customized memorial gift

There are many options to choose from to send a gift of remembrance to someone who’s grieving, customized to reflect the loved one they lost. You might consider a memorial windchime, candle, plaque, blanket, or charm bracelet — they’re all things that can be customized and sent directly to your grieving friend. While many larger businesses are temporarily closed because of stay-at-home orders in various states, small businesses and individual artisans are often still working. Try searching for memorial products at Etsy or Zazzle, where artists and craftspeople can sell their work. You can work with the artist to customize the item you choose, and you can ask to have it sent directly to the home of the bereaved. 

Send a gift card

Gift cards have been a popular memorial gift for a while now, especially for restaurants local to the bereaved. When you’re feeling debilitated by grief, it’s hard to find the time and energy to cook for yourself, and restaurant gift cards make it easy to get a quick meal. During COVID-19, dining rooms are closed in many states, but you can often still get curbside pickup or delivery. A delivered meal could make a big difference for a grieving friend. Before you buy a gift card, it’s a good idea to call the restaurant to make sure they’re open and offering pickup and/or delivery. If they have an online order form that allows you to send an emailed gift certificate to the recipient, that’s a great way to do it. They may also be able to mail a gift card or certificate directly to the bereaved. 

Donate in memory of the deceased

There are so many organizations that can use a donation you make in a friend or relative’s memory. Their obituary might specify where the family requests memorial donations. If it doesn’t, one important need right now is relief for the many people who have been affected by COVID-19. You can donate in someone’s memory to GoFundMe’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, and your donation will be managed by GoFundMe and distributed to people affected by the coronavirus and organizations working to fight it. 

Tend to your own grief

While you’re expressing condolences to the immediate family of a friend who has died, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Your own grief is important, and you can’t put off feeling it and expressing it until this is all over and we’re back to normal. There are grief resources that you can make use of without ever leaving your home, and they’ll help you deal with your feelings of grief after a dear person’s death. 

Legacy offers grief support groups on Facebook, where you can connect with others who have experienced a similar loss. Each group focuses on a specific loss — loss of a spouseloss of a friendloss of a veteran, and more. You can open up about your own loss, or simply read what others have said and what kind of support and advice they’ve received. Click here to see all the available groups.

Here are some additional resources that can help you with your grief even when you can’t hug a faraway friend or attend a grief support group in person: 

  • The Grief Recovery Method is offering one-on-one online sessions with specialists who can help you through your grief from home. 
  • Grief expert David Kessler has created a pop-up Facebook support group for anyone experiencing grief during COVID-19. 
  • Better Help offers grief counseling that you can do online or via phone or chat.  
  • The National Alliance for Grieving Children has resources designed to help children who are grieving at this unusual time
  • Your local hospice organization or hospital may be able to provide grief support via phone or internet. If you’re not sure where to start, ask a local funeral director for a reference. 

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