The Do's and Don'ts of Writing a Sympathy Note

Posted by: Brigitte Ganger in Grief and Guidance, Funeral Advice | September 21, 2021

Writing a sympathy note is a thoughtful way to express your condolences when someone you know has suffered a recent loss. However, it is essential to strike the right tone and offer your sympathy with sensitivity. 

 

Use this list of do's and don'ts to guide you as you craft the perfect note of sympathy.


Do

  1. Write that note, even when you feel awkward. Skipping the note might be interpreted as a sign that you don't care about the family's sorrow. This 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. This is the time to offer your heartfelt sympathy.
  3. Send a stock-printed card if you barely knew the deceased or the family. If the relationship was closer, be sure to write a personal note or letter. When in doubt, send flowers along with your note.
  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. Share a positive memory of thoughtfulness, warmth, or other positive qualities the loved one possessed if you were also close with the deceased. 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. 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, bring a casserole, offer to walk the dog, or do some babysitting.

 

Don't

  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 those beliefs. To non-believers, these sentiments might sound empty and make them feel worse. 


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.

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