Reaching out to friends, family members and acquaintances following the death of a loved one is an imperative that crosses cultures and generations. A well-written note lets those who are grieving know that they are not alone and that you are thinking of them at this difficult time.
However, knowing the best language to use to express your feelings and comfort your card's recipient can be quite tricky at such a tough time. With this in mind, we have put together a comprehensive how-to guide for writing a condolence card, because the worst thing you can do is let the risk of putting your foot in it stop you from getting in touch at all.
Scrolling through the ideas below should help you to start formulating your own personal message. There is no such thing as the perfect condolence card, so just use the advice to craft your own expression of sympathy.
Sympathy Card Message Inspiration
Phrases to Use Following the Death of a Parent
No matter how old you are, losing a parent is really tough and heartfelt messages of sympathy could be a much-appreciated source of comfort.
"Your mom was such a welcoming and loving person. I will never forget her Thanksgiving dinners, they were the stuff of legend!"
"I just wanted to let you know how much your dad meant to me. He was a wonderful man and I have so many happy memories of the summer barbecues he hosted for the entire family."
Phrases to Use Following the Death of a Spouse
It is particularly difficult to come to terms with losing someone as close as a spouse. Someone mourning their husband or wife faces huge changes, not only to the minutiae of their daily routine, but to their sense of personal identity. It may be appropriate to acknowledge the strength of their bond in your personal sympathy message. For example:
"It is going to take time to adjust to the loss of Tom. He was such an incredible person the relationship you had together was truly special. Please be kind to yourself as you mourn his loss and remember his amazing life."
Phrases to Use Following the Death of a Child
It can be particularly hard to know what to say to someone suffering the visceral loss of a child. Losing children, whether they are adult children or infants, is absolutely heart-breaking and words do not seem to do justice to expressing sympathy at this terrible time. Here are a few ideas that may offer some comfort at this time of grieving:
- "I hope it is of some comfort to know how much we loved Alex too."
- "Kit was such a lovely person. He brought joy to so many lives and we are missing him so much too. If there is anything we can do to support you and your family in the coming weeks and months, please let us know."
Phrases to Use Following the Death of a Co-Worker
If you are writing to the family of someone you knew through work and they do not know you well, it is worth incorporating how you knew the deceased into your sympathy message. For example, "I had the pleasure of working with Dan for 5 years and I know he will be greatly missed by all of us in the office."
Phrases to Use Following a Sudden or Unexpected Death
The grieving process for a person who has died suddenly or unexpectedly is different to a loss that was preceded by a long illness or decline. The language of your sympathy note should acknowledge the shock of their death and offer additional sympathy, support and understanding. The following phrases may help them during this challenging time:
"I was surprised and saddened to learn of your loss."
"It is never easy to say goodbye to an amazing woman like Maria, but the shock of her loss is especially hard. She was a true friend and we send our sincerest condolences to you at this difficult time."
Religious Sympathy Messages
Anyone with a strong religious belief will find probably find great comfort in their faith as they go through the grieving process. One of the following Bible verses or devout messages may be appropriate for your sympathy card:
Bible Verses for Sympathy Cards
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" Psalm 34:18
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea." Psalm 46:1-2
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4
Religious Sentiments for Sympathy Cards
"Your family is in our thoughts and our prayers"
"I pray God gives you comfort and strength during this difficult time."
Literary Quotes For Sympathy Cards
If the recipient of your card isn't religious, it may be more appropriate to enlist the assistance of a famous author to help you articulate a meaningful message of sympathy.
"Unable are the loved to die. For love is immortality." Emily Dickinson
"If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together…there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think, but the most important thing is, even if we’re apart…I’ll always be with you." Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne)
Share a Fond Memories of Happy Times
It can be very comforting for people grieving a loved one to be reminded that others were fond of them too. You can keep this general with phrases such as:
“ I feel very lucky that I got to know your daughter. What a wonderful person and what an incredible life.”
"Your father was an amazing person. We join you in celebrating his remarkable life at this time of sorrow."
Alternatively, you can share a personal memory of the deceased to let your card's recipient know that they hold a place in your memory too. For example:
"I have such fond memories of walking with your mum. We would pack a picnic and set out for a day's hiking with our beloved dogs. No matter how much we talked or how far we walked, the world still needed to be put to rights and the dogs never seemed to be tired!"
"I have such happy memories of your brother. Football training with him was never dull! I will miss his energy, his team spirit and his irrepressible sense of fun."
Mention the Funeral or Memorial Service
If you are writing your condolence message before the service of remembrance has taken place, you can use your sympathy card as an opportunity to let the recipient know that you would like to attend and to ask for details of when and where it will be held.
In the event that the funeral service information has already been released and you know whether or not you are able to attend, it may be helpful to let the recipient know your intentions. This will help them to make practical decisions regarding seating capacity for the venue and catering numbers for the wake.
If your letter of condolence is being written after the service has taken place, it may be appropriate to reference it in your condolence card:
"Mary's funeral was a wonderful tribute to a remarkable woman. It brought back many special memories and it was such a source of comfort to be amongst so many others who held her in such high regard."
What not to write in a sympathy card
Don't Make Promises You Cannot Keep
If you live a long way away from your recipient, or you have a busy schedule with no room for any extra duties, don't offer to do things that you cannot hope to follow through with should your offer be accepted. It would be really kind to pick up their kids from school when they are having a bad day, fill their freezer full of home-cooked meals to relieve some domestic pressure or pop to the shops for them on days when they cannot face the world, but only suggest these in your card if you're actually able to do them.
If you're busy or a long way away from your recipient let them know that you are only a phone call or text message away and would be happy to offer support from afar, if needed. Remember to follow up on this yourself, as they may feel too unhappy to pick up the phone and make contact. A supportive message from you out of the blue could really cheer up their day, especially when it feels like everyone has forgotten their loss and moved on with their lives.
Don't Crack Jokes
Unless you know the recipient of your card extremely well and are certain your sense of humour will alleviate their sadness, steer clear of jokes in your condolence card. Even people who are normally on your wavelength when it comes to comedy are probably not finding much to smile about at the moment. Save your one-liners for a future meeting, when they will probably be glad to relax and laugh a little with you.
Don't Advise or Make Assumptions
Although grief can be a unifying force, bringing people together in remembrance of a loved one, every individual mourns differently, so don't assume that you know how the recipient of your card is feeling. Offer love, emotional and/or practical support and share your favourite memories of the deceased, but avoid advising people how to deal with their feelings of grief, even if you have experienced a similar loss yourself.
Whether the recipient of your card has strong religious convictions or not, it is best to avoid saying that the death of their loved one happened for a reason or that they have gone to a better place. While these sentiments may be motivated by heartfelt care and a desire to comfort, they can often be misconstrued by the recipient and may be hurtful.
If in Doubt, Keep it Short
If you have been staring at a blank piece of paper for hours and all the sentences that you try to formulate feel awkward and do not seem to offer the comfort and sympathy that you intend, don't give up all together. Opt for a single sentence such as one of the following:
"My deepest condolences at this difficult time."
"Please accept my heartfelt sympathy for your loss."
"We are so sorry for your loss."
"With deepest sympathies as you remember George at this sad time."
You don't have to write a 500-word sympathy letter to make it worthwhile. Taking the time to select and send a card will be truly appreciated by its recipient, no matter how brief the written message.