Thursday, 29 May 2008

What to Say When a Colleagues' Family Member Dies

This is fairly off topic for this blog, but this is something that's come up several times recently for me, and I've struggled with it each time. This morning I received a note from a colleague to tell me that their mother died last night and that they couldn't do our scheduled call. I'm always at a loss as to what to say ...

I honestly sat in front of the email this morning trying to figure out what I should be saying. And I rewrote the email a bunch of times. I never felt the words in the email were the right words.

I'm generally okay with saying something about being sorry for their loss (and I truly am). If I know them well enough to know whether they are religious, I will sometimes say that they are in my family's prayers (and they truly are). I wish there was a non-religious way to say the same thing, but I don't know the equivalent.

But those one or two sentences seem inappropriately short given the magnitude of the situation. Maybe it's good to be short? Still it feels hollow.

And I struggled even more with whether to say and what to say about the work / scheduled call. Do you mention anything about it? I wanted to say that our discussions could hold until ???? But it seems wrong to even include that message in the same note. It felt like a rounding error on the important part of the message.

And if you do say something about holding, what's the end of that sentence?

Until you get back? <- Not quite right. It could hold longer if they need it.

Until things return to normal? <- Ouch. No. That's definitely not right.

Until ???

I'm sure that many other people face this same issue. I would appreciate any suggestions, especially sample emails / wording that you would or have used in this kind of situation.

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