How to Write a Sympathy Card

Woman writing a sympathy card sitting at a desk near windows

Sympathy cards can feel impossible to write. Everyone grieves differently. Some things people find offensive, while others find comforting.  Don’t let this fear of saying the wrong thing hold you back from writing a sympathy card.

Here are do’s and don’ts, a letter layout, and different phrases to help you convey a meaningful, heartfelt sympathy message.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

  • Write it by hand on a printed sympathy card, blank card, or good stationery.
  • Try to send the note a.s.a.p. There is no time limit though. If you don’t hear about the death until a year later, it’s still okay to write a letter. Let them know that you just found out.
  • Keep it positive and personal. Don’t focus exclusively on the pain the recipient is experiencing. You can remember the special qualities or nice memories of the deceased.
  • Refer to the deceased by name, if you know the name.
  • Offer help (Only if you truly feel willing to help). It can be hard for grieving individuals to ask for help. You could offer to babysit, mow the lawn, bring a meal, clean the house, run an errand, arrange a playdate, etc.
  • Plan to send an anniversary card. Sympathy cards roll in when someone first dies, but not usually around the first-anniversary death date. When you buy a sympathy card, buy a card for the first anniversary of the loss at the same time. Put the reminder on your calendar. Then send it to let your friend know that you are still thinking of them, that you acknowledge their grief is still difficult, and that you are still there for support.

Don’ts

  • Don’t send condolences in an email or text.
  • Don’t rely on long stock phrases from greeting cards. A personal message is crucial and much more meaningful than a long-winded message created by a Hallmark employee.  You need to write it, not your florist or another vendor either.
  • Don’t assume or inform the person how they “should” be feeling
    • “You should be strong.” 
    • “I bet you miss him but not all the time needed to take care of him.”
    • “I know how you feel.”
    • “Maybe it’s time to move on.” 

These sayings can be very hurtful. Grief is different for everyone, and their feelings need to be validated, no matter the speed of their recovery. You are not here to fix them or hurry along the grieving process. You are there to hold space for their emotions and ask if they need anything.

  • Don’t rehash the tragedy. They may already believe their loved one is in a better place, but that doesn’t ease the loss or loneliness.
  • Don’t offer something you can’t deliver on. Again, we stress this because it is important. It’s hard enough for grievers to ask for help. It’s even more devastating when they are left empty-handed, lonelier than ever.

Letter Layout 

Sympathy letter flatlay with envelope, flowers, leaves and ribbon

Here is a brief layout of a letter. It can be as short or as long as you’d like it to be.

Dear ___________, 

Mention you are praying or thinking about the family. 

Talk positively about the person who died, how he/she impacted your life if applicable.

Offer a way to help, if you mean it.

Close by saying how much the deceased will be missed.

Sign.


Example: 

Dear Grace, 

Words cannot express the depth of my sorrow over the loss of your mother. I’ll never forget her warm smile and gracious welcome when our families got together. I know that nothing anyone can say will take away the pain of your loss, but our prayers are with you and your family. If there is anything I can do to help, like run errands, or if you feel like talking, please don’t hesitate to call.

Possible Phrases to Include

General

  • “Wherever a beautiful soul has been, there’s a trail of beautiful memories. Do you remember that time when ___(insert fond memory).”
  • “Words fail to express my deep sorrow for your loss.”
  • “Please know that I’m here for you, to listen, comfort, and lean on during this difficult time. I’m only a phone call away.”
  • “You’ve got so much on your mind and heart right now. We’d like to take away one less worry by taking care of your ____(insert a task such as yard work) for you for ___(insert amount of time or long as you need)___.”

Mother 

  • “Your mom’s amazing qualities are being carried on beautifully by you. She will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
  • “I didn’t know your mom well, but she must have been incredible to raise someone as remarkable as you.”
  • “You took such good care of your mom these last few years. She was lucky to have you.”
  • “Your mom’s consideration, generosity, and optimistic nature were contagious. Her memory will live on forever.”

Father 

  • “Your father was one-of-a-kind, who lived a truly remarkable life. I feel lucky I got to know him.”
  • “I hope it brings you some comfort to know that I’m celebrating the life your father lived. I’m thankful for his impact on my life.”
  • “Nobody could tell a better story than your dad. I will always cherish the times spent with him.”
  • “The lessons your dad taught you, the love he gave, the way he cared for people… all those good things live on in you.”
  • “A father’s guiding hand always sits on the shoulder of his children. May your dad’s memory always be your guiding light.”

Spouse 

  • “When someone as special as your husband lives the way he did, his legacy is living on through the many lives he touched.”
  • “We are missing Anne along with you. With heartfelt sympathy,____”
  •  “I’m praying hard for you, for peace, for comfort, and for whatever you need right now.”

Child

  • “We will hold Daniel in our hearts until we can hold him in heaven.”
  •  “Though we only got to hold him for a short while, he brought us together and caused so many smiles. We are celebrating all the days that were brighter because your beautiful son was here.”
  • “I hope there’s some comfort in knowing just how loved and adored your daughter was.”
  •  “It feels wrong that you should have to say goodbye to your child. Whatever you’re feeling, please know you’re not alone. We’re here to support you in any way we can throughout the months to come.”
  • “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal. A child’s love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Friend

  • “The feelings of sorrow can be easier to navigate with a friend. Please know that I’m here for you during this difficult time.”
  • “Thinking of you and wishing you moments of peace and comfort as you remember a friend who was so close to you.”

Pets 

Coworker 

  • “It was truly a pleasure working with your father for 17 years. He was a role model and someone I aimed to be like. He will be deeply missed.”

Consider a Gift

If you know the deceased was cremated, a cremation necklace, memorial urn, or candle holder urn may be a good gift. A customized ornament, memorial bracelet, or wall cross with the loved one’s name, birthday, and date of death might also be welcomed. 

Again, anything will be more appreciated than nothing. Put your heart into it, and it will surely brighten their day.