One Simple Rule: How to Write a Sympathy Note
It’s surprising but true: many people avoid sending much-needed sympathy notes because, simply, they don’t know what to write. While it can seem overwhelming to strike an appropriate tone and find the “right” words, know that the recipient isn’t reading your sympathy note with a critical eye—instead, they’re comforted by the fact that you’re thinking of them and their loved ones during these difficult times.
With that in mind you should feel confident in whatever makes it onto the page—and if you’re still stuck these thought starters will ensure you’re communicating your feelings and well wishes in a clear, cohesive and compassionate tone.
Getting Started: Crafting Your Intro
Still feeling at a loss for words? Start by considering your relationship to the deceased and the person receiving your note. Is the recipient someone you know well—a close friend, a neighbor or a loved one, perhaps? Was the deceased also someone you knew—or, maybe, you just knew the deceased and don’t know the recipient? This will definitely dictate how you approach your note. For example, if you knew the departed but not the sympathy note recipient, start by introducing yourself and quickly explaining your relationship to their loved one:
I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your father, Joe. He and I worked closely together at Techonics for 20 years, and he was a true friend and confidant to me for decades…”
This succinctly connects you to the deceased and opens the door for meaningful words of sympathy, encouragement, and support. A lighthearted or meaningful story, words of appreciation or an anecdote the reader can relate to—how Joe always spoke highly of Susan, for example—is a great way to flesh out your note, and make the reader feel comforted and connected.
If you know the recipient, consider adding an offer to help as needed. Be specific in your offer—offering to do “anything” may seem overwhelming—and mention you’re happy to cook, clean, babysit, help with arrangements or tackle any other project that comes to mind. No matter the offer know that it’s welcomed and appreciated, even if the person doesn’t take you up on it.
Closing Your Note
This can often be the trickiest part of your note. Since many sympathy notes contain very personal, very emotional content, it can sometimes be hard to tie it all up at the end. Like the note itself, be succinct, compassionate and clear in your word choice. Let the reader know you and your family are thinking of/praying for them and, most importantly, that you’ll reach out soon to check in. Sign your note with a simple closing such as
- With sympathy
- Thinking of you
- Praying for you
- With love
- God bless you
- Wishing you healing
- Our/My condolences
You’ll know what’s best based on your relationship. Seal your note and either mail or hand deliver—don’t bring to the funeral or wake since it’s likely to get lost in the shuffle.
Remember the Follow Up
Once the immediate arrangements have been handled, mourners can often find themselves feeling alone and, even, needing more support than they did early on. That’s when a second sympathy card or phone call may be in order.
Remind the reader that you’re thinking of them and reiterate your offer to help, as needed. Often times these follow-up notes can mean more than the initial sympathy card itself—it shows you’ve continued to think about them and their families during these extremely difficult times.
A Word on Sympathy Notes
Since email has become so commonplace, many choose to send sympathy cards electronically. While there are situations that could warrant this approach—you can’t find an address for the deceased’s relatives, for example—email notes are easy to miss and may not feel as personal as a handwritten note.
What’s more, because spam filters are becoming increasingly sensitive, electronic cards or notes from unknown senders could get stuck in a junk folder and wind up never being seen. If at all possible, opt for a handwritten note over email—however, follow ups can certainly happen via email, if you choose.
Sympathy notes offer much-needed comfort and condolences during very difficult, very emotional moments in time. No matter your relationship to the deceased or the recipient it’s extremely important to offer your words of encouragement and support. Start by expressing your sympathy, share a personal anecdote or memory, then close by offering to lend a hand whenever and however it’s needed most.