The situation

Your client just told you his wife of 30 years died unexpectedly.

He tears up while giving you the basic details—she was crossing the street and got hit by a drunk driver.

How do you comfort him during this difficult time?

The first step towards helping your client overcome his pain is to let him know he’s not alone.

Voice your sorrow. Tell him, “I am sorry to hear about Soon-Yi’s passing. Her loss must be very painful for you. If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know. I’m here for you.” The bereaved may acknowledge your words with a simple “thank you,” and change the subject.

But if he needs to talk, then be a good listener. Nod your head and make eye contact.

If there’s an awkward silence, mention a memorable anecdote or great quality about the deceased: For example, “Your wife was always so proud of your children. She just lit up when we talked about them and loved sharing their accomplishments.”

Remember bereaved people are under tremendous stress, so be sensitive to the situation and don’t put them on the spot by asking about too many details. That said, there are people your client must contact soon, including his lawyer and insurance provider. Gently let him know that when he feels up to dealing with paperwork, you’ll set up a time to meet.

And mention you’re also willing to meet with family members during this challenging time.

Try saying the following:


I’m saddened to hear of your wife’s passing. How incredibly difficult this must be for you and your family.


She’s gone. I can’t believe it.


She was a wonderful example of goodness to her family, friends and community.


Look on the bright side. You might be able to sue the driver.


If there’s anything I can do to help with paperwork, please let me know.


My grandmother died years ago and the family’s still fighting over money.

If your client tells you about his wife’s passing via email, send a sympathy note as soon as possible (see “Sympathy note example,” below).

And make sure you personally handwrite and sign it. A good note should include the following: your sympathy; a happy recollection of the deceased; and an assurance you’re thinking about the bereaved.

Sympathy Note Example:

Please accept our most heartfelt sympathies on the loss of your wife.

Soon-Yi had a great sense of humour and often spoke about how the children gave her great joy. She will be missed by many. Our thoughts are with you and your family.

Respectfully yours,

[Your name]