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Not sure what to write in a sympathy card or letter? We’ve got you covered!

Published: March 24, 2021

Throughout life, we all experience loss. And as those we care about experience loss we want to reach out to them, to write a letter or card of support to let them know we care and are thinking of them. But as we sit down, pen-to-paper, the words may not come easily. It can be difficult to formulate the right message of support in a time of great sadness for them. There are some pointers however, that can guide you towards writing something that is encouraging, supportive, and meaningful.

As you begin to gather what you need, you may ponder if you should send the card. Maybe it’s a coworker or neighbor you don’t know very well. Whatever your relationship is, err on the side of sending a note. If they are more of an acquaintance than a friend, sending a card is still completely appropriate, they will be touched that you are thinking of them.

The first part of writing a sympathy card is obviously, choosing that card! As you peruse the greeting card aisle, keep your recipient in mind. If you know them well, you should hopefully find something you feel suits them. If the recipient is someone you aren’t close to and therefore don’t know them well, try to avoid cards with religious themes. Also, in choosing a card, try to stick with simple ones. While Hallmark is awesome at saying the tough stuff, a handwritten message of love and support is really unparalleled.

After picking out your card or deciding what you’d like to write, there are some solid do’s and don’ts to keep in mind. Please:

Don’t say ‘at least’ or ‘finally’.  As you write, keep in mind that the person you are sending the card to is grieving. Writing ‘at least’ their family member is no longer in pain, or that they are ‘finally at rest’, can be hurtful. Avoid these types of statements no matter the situation.

Don’t expect a reply. Your friend, or acquaintance is going through a difficult time in their life. Your card will most likely not be the only one they receive. In the midst of their grief, they may not have the time or energy to respond to your sympathy card but know that it will be appreciated.

Don’t suggest vague offers of help. Avoid writing ‘Let me know if you need anything!’ and instead try to offer specific suggestions, such as you’d love to bring them a casserole, or help bring their children to school, or whatever task you feel you can help with.

Do send the card right away. Knowing that it is something tough to accomplish, getting the card written and sent out as soon as you hear of their loss is the appropriate and considerate thing to do.

Do identify yourself. If you knew the deceased, but not necessarily the family, you should make sure you introduce yourself and how you knew them in your card. With the many cards the family could potentially receive, this is a good idea to make it easier on the bereaved.

Do hand write your message. In this technological landscape, you may be tempted to send an email, to type out a letter or to send a text message of support, but there is nothing more meaningful than something written from your own hand. Even if you feel your handwriting is subpar, the recipient will be touched.

Do keep it brief. A person who is grieving may not have the time or attention span to sit and read a long-winded recollection of their loved one. A sympathy card is to let the person know you are thinking of them in their time of sadness. As time goes on and the clouds begin to part, maybe then they’d like to sit down and hear the many stories you could share about their loved one. You can keep it brief and still be caring, some examples of statements you could use include.

- I’m going to miss him too.

- It was truly a pleasure working with your brother these past 5 years, he will be missed.

- Sending you comforting hugs; may you feel surrounded by love at this time.

- Your aunt was an incredible individual, who I was grateful to have known. We will all miss her.

And most importantly: Do write from the heart. All of our guidance can help you get started and hopefully give you some inspiration; but know the most meaningful suggestions or advice you can offer comes from within you.

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