Writing a Sympathy Note

Text size

Writing a sympathy note can be a difficult exercise, but it’s a necessary one. Here are some tips to make sure your note has the right tone:

1) Write that note, even when you feel awkward. Skipping the note might be interpreted as a sign you don’t care about the family’s sorrow, which is never the message you want to send.

2) Send the note as soon as you hear about the death. The first days and weeks after a loss are often the worst; that is when you want to express your sympathy.

3) A stock printed card is fine if you barely knew the deceased or the family. But if the relationship was closer, be sure to write a personal note or letter.

4) Remember the note is for the living, not the deceased. Even if you didn’t get along with the deceased or didn’t know the person at all, it’s always appropriate to offer sympathy to the family.

5) Tell them you’re sorry they suffered a loss. This is the essence of your message. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it always needs to be said. Let them know they’re in your thoughts as they struggle with their grief.

6) If you were close to the deceased, share a positive memory of thoughtfulness, warmth, or other positive qualities the loved one possessed. Gentle humor can be just what the family needs, so it’s fine to share a funny story if it puts the deceased in a good light.

7) If you’re good friends with the family, offer some help. If you’re far away, you might say “I’m here any time you want to talk.” If you live close by, you might bring a casserole or offer to walk the dog or do some babysitting.

1) Say “Let me know if you need anything.” While this is a popular gesture, it’s essentially an empty one. The bereaved is too busy and in too much pain to think of things for you to do. If you really want to help, offer something specific.

2) Say “Mary’s finally out of pain.” Avoid saying anything that makes it sound like the death was a good thing.

3) Express religious sentiments, unless you’re sure the family shares your beliefs. To nonbelievers, such sentiments might sound empty and make them feel worse. It is acceptable, however, to let them know you’re remembering them in your prayers.

Condolence notes can be a source of comfort and let sorrowing relatives know they are not alone. With a few simple words, you can let the bereaved know you care and brighten their day.