Death is not an easy topic to discuss, and if someone in your circle loses a close relative or friend, you may not know exactly what to say. Your first instinct might be to reach out and offer support, but you may hold back because you don’t want to say the wrong thing. Don’t beat yourself up.
No matter how many times we endure loss, there is nothing easy about losing a loved one. But even if you don’t have the courage to pick up the phone and visit a grieving friend in-person, you need to know what to write in a sympathy card.
Of course, you may feel that coming up with the right words for a card is just as challenging as a face-to-face conversation, as you’ll need to include a few words of comfort. Writing a sympathy card, however, might be easier than you think.
1. Keep it simple.
A heartfelt, meaningful sympathy card or note doesn’t have to lengthy. Remember, the ideal is to express your condolences, not entertain or write a book. No matter how much or how little you write, the recipient will appreciate the fact that you took time out of your day to put your thoughts on paper. Plus, the passing of a loved one is a busy time for family members, thus the shorter your card, the better.
2. Express your condolences.
Start with a short introduction, such as “Dear Mary” or “Dear Johnson Family.” Next, offer words of encouragement to let the recipient know that you’re remembering him/her during this difficult time. Do not be afraid to mention the name of the person who died. This gives your sympathy card a personal touch. If you don’t know the person’s name, it’s okay to use titles, such as uncle, aunt, brother or best friend. For example:
- “I am keeping you and your family in my prayers”
- “I was heartbroken by this sad news”
- “Please accept my heartfelt sympathies for the loss of your grandmother”
- “As you grieve your loss, know that we are thinking about you and your family”
- “I heard about John’s passing. I want you to know that I am deeply sorry for your loss”
If possible, avoid the words “death” and “died” in the sympathy card. Reading these words might hit the recipient like a ton of bricks. Instead, use words like “passing” or “loss” when referring to the death of a loved one. Most importantly, do not use phrases, such as “it was his time to go” or “it’s all for the best.” And unless you’ve been through this kind of pain, do not say, “I know how you feel.”
3. Share a brief memory about the deceased.
You may choose to keep your sympathy card to the point. This is okay if you’re not a person of many words. However, incorporating a special or funny memory about the deceased in your card adds a nice touch. This not only conveys how much you cared for the person, a memory might put a smile on the recipient’s face. And if you don’t have a special memory, mentioning an admirable trait or quality can have the same impact.
- “Mary was an excellent wife and mother, and we all strived to be like her.”
- “The kids will always remember the time when John took them camping. It was the best weekend of their life.”
- “Jane’s personality could light up a room. She always knew how to put a smile on my face.”
Understandably, you can’t add a personal memory if you didn’t know the deceased. But maybe the surviving loved one shared a story or spoke highly about their loved one in the past.
- “You always spoke of your uncle’s generosity and kindness. I know that he will be missed by your family.”
- “I remember you telling me about the practical jokes your brother used to play on you. He always came across as a fun-loving guy.
Of course, if sharing a memory is completely out the question, you can simply write,
- “I know that few words are able to bring comfort at a time like this.”
4. Offer to help.
Family members need all the support they can find. Extend an invitation to help in anyway. But don’t just offer your hand, be specific and suggest ways that you can help.
- “If you need someone to run errands or watch the kids, I’m here to help.”
- “Do you need any help around the house? If so, please do not hesitate to call.”
- “Please let me know how I can help during this difficult time for your family.”
- “I would love to prepare a meal for your family. Please let me know which day is good for you.”
5. Select a closing phrase and sign your name.
This short phrase at the end of the sympathy card should sum up how you feel.
- “You are in my thoughts,”
- “Wishing you peace,”
- “My thoughts and prayers are with you,”
- “My deepest sympathies,”
- “With heartfelt condolences,”
- “He will never be forgotten,”