Sooner or later we all enter seasons of loss (perdita) and sorrow (dolore, dispiacere) when we mourn (piangere) for a loved one. The emotions (sentimenti) are the same (gli stessi) throughout the world, and words of compassion (parole di cordoglio), although different in every language, can do much to ease the way through the grieving process (elaborazione del lutto).
Writing an obituary (annuncio funebre) or eulogy (necrologio) is always wrenching for anyone in mourning (in lutto). Composing a condolence letter (lettera di condoglianze) to comfort (dare conforto, confortare) a friend or acquaintance in deep grief (molto addolorato) can also be difficult.
“Nelle occasioni tristi bisogna usare le parole con cautela e discrezione” (on sad occasions it is necessary to use words with caution and discretion), say linguists Valeria della Valle and Giuseppe Patota in Le parole giuste (The Right Words). Above all, you want to “evitare di urtare, involontariamente, la suscettibilità e la sensibilità di persone già provate dal dolore" (avoid upsetting, involuntarily, the susceptibility and sensitivity of people already troubled by suffering).
Many people use a standard phrase such as “Vi esprimiamo le nostre sentite condoglianze” (We express to you our most “felt,” or sincere, sympathy). However, the authors advise avoiding “la parola condoglianze o, peggio ancora, espressioni logore come vive condoglianze” (the word condolences or, still worse, worn expressions such as “heart-felt” condolences).
It is better to communicate your sympathy and friendship in modo breve (in a brief way), they advise, because in sad circumstances it is possible for words to diventare troppe (become too much). Avoid "lunghi discorsi di tono celebrativo o commemorativo" (long discussions in a celebratory or commemorative tone). The loss (scomparsa) of a loved one should not become an occasion per far sfoggio di retorica (for showing off rhetoric).
Speak or write from the heart, with phrases such as:
*Ti sono vicino — I am close to you. I’m with you.
*Vi siamo vicini — We are close to you (plural).
*Partecipo al tuo dolore — I share in your sadness.
*Siamo con voi — We are whole-heartedly with you.
*Inviamo queste parole con profonda commozione, profondo dolore — We send these words with profound emotion, profound sorrow.
I professori (the professors) recommend the same simplicity (la stessa semplicità) in responding to condolences, for example:
*"Grazie per l’affetto dimostrato” — Thank you for the affection you’ve shown.
*“Grazie per esserci stati vicini” — Thank you for having been close to us.
Personally, I thank all of you who have sent comforting words, in English and Italian, to me following the loss of my beloved father. Rimango molto commossa (I remain very touched.)
Words and Expressions
lutto stretto — deep mourning
piangere un amico –- to mourn (weep for) a friend
vestirsi a lutto –- to dress in mourning (black)
trigesimo –- thirtieth day after death
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA, My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language.
Click below for a tribute to a "great spirit":