How to Write a Sympathy Card - Words of Sympathy
When we hear the news of someone's passing, whether family, friend, or acquaintance, we are often moved to send our condolences in the form of a sympathy card. Even though etiquette says we should send a card immediately this is often the most difficult time to write, since the pain of loss is so new. Here, we offer some tips on how to express your condolences in the most sensitive and loving way.
Getting Started Writing a Sympathy Card
In today's electronic age some people are using e-mail cards as an alternative to the traditional sympathy card. While this has come to be accepted, sending a handwritten letter on personal stationary or an appropriate card is still preferred. Paper cards or letters can be collected and put into a keepsake album or box, or left on display at the grieving person's home as a source of comfort. The specially selected card gives added depth to your expression of condolence. Humorous cards are not recommended as sympathy cards.
- Remember to write neatly, preferably with blue or black ink.
- Handwrite the address on the envelope, do not use a printer or typewriter.
- Use proper titles on the envelope, including: Mr. Mrs. Miss, etc.
- If you knew the deceased person well but were not close to his or her family (as in the case of a co-worker), address the card to the closest relative.
- If you have a friend who is grieving but did not know the person who died, address the card to your friend and not to the deceased family.
- Clearly identify yourself. Be sure to include your last name both on the card and in the return address. If you are a distant friend or relative it is appropriate to include a reference to identify yourself, such as "Julie Finch (Bob and Jean Smith's daughter)". If you haven't seen the recipient in a long time you can also send an appropriate photograph of yourself.
What to Say in a Sympathy Card.
The hardest part of sending a sympathy card is that words do not convey well the depths of comfort you wish to send your family, friends, or acquaintances during their time of sorrow. We want to sound genuine but find it hard not to rely on clichés.
1. There is no need for a lengthy explanation for why you are writing. A simple introduction is all that is needed.
- "I was deeply saddened when I learned about Jim's passing."
2. Express your condolences. It is appropriate to refer to the person's death as a "loss."
- "My heart goes out to you in your time of sorrow."
- "Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your grandfather."
- As you grieve know that we are remembering you and honoring Frank's memory.
- Please accept my heartfelt sympathies for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.
3. Don't be afraid to share a short story or memory you have about the deceased. This will let the recipient know how much their loved one meant to you - and maybe give them a reason to laugh or smile. It is also appropriate to write about how much the person meant to you and that they will be missed.
- Dorothy was a source of inspiration to me. I will never forget her!
- Frances spent her life serving others. I am so thankful to have known her.
4. If a person's passing comes at the end of a long period of suffering or illness, it is appropriate to acknowledge the illness.
- I know John experienced a great deal of suffering since he was diagnosed with cancer. I pray that you will find comfort in knowing that he is no longer in any pain.
5. If you would like to offer some assistance, don't be afraid to offer. Don't leave the offer open-ended, however. Give specific ways you would be willing to help.
- In this stressful time, please let me know if I can help in any way. I would love to... (make a meal for your family, baby sit your children, house sit, dog/cat sit, mow your lawn, etc.)
6. Pick an appropriate and sincere phrase to sum up your feelings and end the card. There are a variety of closing phrases from which to choose:
- I'm praying for you
- You are in my thoughts
- With Deepest Sympathy
- My sincere sympathy
- With Heartfelt Condolences
- Our thoughts and prayers are with you
- He/She will never be forgotten
- The memory of him/her will always be in our hearts
- Thinking of you
- Thinking of you during this difficult time
- May God's Grace strengthen you
- May your heart and soul find peace and comfort
What Not to Say in a Sympathy Card
When we experience the death of a friend or loved one, we often feel vulnerable and may become more sensitive to words and actions of those around us. Choose your words carefully so that the card you send does not cause any further hurt to those already grieving.
- Keep your message short. This is not the time to inform the recipient of all the news happening in your life.
- This is not the time to explanation why you may not have written, called, or visited in a while.
- Families will often state a charitable organization for you to direct donations in the deceased name. Do not send money in your card.
- Avoid clichés such as: "I know how you feel," "You will get over this in time," "It's all for the best," "Time heals all wounds," or "It was his time to go". Phrases such as these do not take into account that the grieving process is unique to each person. Immediately after someone's death we may not be ready to "let go", "get over", or even be healed. It is best to leave this process in God's hands.
- Avoid mentioning details of the person's death. The memories are fresh to the recipient and they do not need reminders.
- It is not appropriate to mention any disagreements or differences of opinion you and the deceased may have been experiencing. Old grudges or money owed can be addressed at a later date.
After the Funeral
After the loss of a loved one depression is a common occurrence. Memories and a feeling of loneliness can become overwhelming, especially around special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, or even Thanksgiving and Christmas. After you send someone a sympathy card it is important to stay in touch. You may want to follow up with a phone call or a visit. If they are not ready for visitors, try again a little later. Send some flowers or a simple "Thinking of You" card. Invite them to join your family for holiday meals. On the anniversary of the person's death don't be afraid to make another donation to their favorite charity, arrange for flowers for the gravesite, or send a remembrance card. You can be sure your remembrance of the day will be appreciated.