Sometimes it’s not just what you say but how you say it. “I’m sorry for your loss” is a very common phrase when approaching the bereaved. There is nothing wrong with this statement but how you say it can be meaningful or meaningless.
Last week I attended a funeral and the reception back at the house. A colleague of the bereaved spouse approached his adult daughter. He extended his hand and said “I’m sorry for your loss.” She had no idea who he was and it was awkward. It would have been more meaningful had he introduced himself and said something like, “I’m Peter Smith and I worked with your dad. I never met your mom but heard wonderful things about her. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Touch can be comforting when consoling the bereaved but respect boundaries. If you know someone is not a hugger, give a warm touch to the arm or hand while expressing your sympathy. If it’s okay, give a hug and share your sadness at their loss.
There is nothing magic you can say to alleviate the pain of loss but being present and expressing sincere condolences does provide solace.