It's always tricky determining the differences between sympathy and empathy and condolences. Especially when these feelings are responses to sensitive situations. You are put in an awkward position where you really don't want to put yourself at the center of the situation, but you do want to position yourself in a way that is sincere and helpful.
Firstly, it helps to know the breakdown of sympathy vs. empathy vs. condolences:
Empathy is figuratively putting yourself in another person's shoes. It is seeing the situation through the eyes of the griever and channeling your emotions in a way that the griever would experience it.
Condolences are intangible offers of comfort. It is not quite involved as being empathic but it is an active gesture of going out of your way to provide emotional comfort and support to the griever.
Sympathy is simply compassion. It is an emotional understanding of the griever's feelings. You are able to provide support by being sensitive to the situation.
Sympathy is an easier feeling because of the flexibility you have in the ways you can be supportive. Don't feel obligated to take the empathic step. What's great about sympathizing with someone is that you can be supportive while still being yourself. Sometimes the griever just wants the positive energy from others to get through their situation. And you do this best just by being yourself and expressing your self.
Just gifting a simple sympathy card with a heartfelt message from you is enough to bring a smile to the recipient's face. So finally, here are some thoughtful tips and example messages for what you can write in your sympathy card:
Be present in your sympathy message.
Don't just say, "Hey, it gets better." Rather, let them know that you are aware of the grief they may be feeling and that you want to offer that emotional understanding.
"Hey, I know that you're going through a rough time, but I want you to know that you aren't alone in this and that there are people here for you even if only to offer a smile."
Add a personal touch in your sympathy card.
Being able to connect on a personal level shows greater compassion on your part.
"I know you love that retro diner downtown with the awesome chocolate milkshakes. If going there isn't something to get you up the next day, then I'm just going to have to bring that milkshake to your front door. I'd say I'm here for you, but that milkshake is here for you more."
Be appropriate to the situation and understand the boundaries.
Sometimes light humor can ease the grief, but add it into your sympathy message with caution.
"Your grandma was the best baker I've ever known. How about we look through her old cookbook and make some of her favorite dessert recipes in her memory?"
Explore our sympathy card collection which offers blank cards ideal for you to write your own thoughtful sympathy messages.