If you avoid the bereaved because you are worried you’ll say the wrong thing, you risk hurting them. Loss is very isolating and if you deliberately keep your distance, you’ll isolate the bereaved even more.
It’s important to acknowledge the loss and a simple greeting is all that’s required. It could be a sincere, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” or, “I was terribly sorry to hear the news about your mom.”
Some people may think these expressions trite but in truth, you are terribly sorry for their loss. These words work because they’re sincere and simple. It’s when you try to elaborate with something of more substance that you often get into trouble and say the wrong thing.
Recently, a friend encountered a truly awful loss. When I first saw her, “I’m so sorry for your loss” seemed inadequate. Instead, I hugged her close and said, “You’re in my heart.” As she hugged me back, I knew I chose the right thing to say. In the weeks and months ahead, there will be plenty of time to say more.