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The How-To Lounge: Sending a Sympathy Card

Writing a thank you note is tricky enough, but even harder is mastering the art of sending a sympathy card. Still, writing a formal sympathy note to a friend who has lost someone close to her — whether you are attending the funeral or not — is a gesture that's always appreciated. Finding the right words can be tricky, however, so to find out how to send a sympathy card,


  • Hand-write your note on formal stationery or an understated note card. Stay away from playful or cutesy designs.
  • Use the tone you would when talking to the person you are writing. If it is a close friend, you should be conversational, but for family or work acquaintances, use a more polite, reserved tone.
  • Open the message by expressing your sympathy and succinctly acknowledging the loss, and use the deceased's name. It can be something as simple as: "I was so saddened to hear about the recent passing of your dad, George."
  • Personalize your note with some sort of tribute to the deceased. You could either list some of the qualities you liked about the person or offer a few of your best memories of the deceased. Short anecdotes are especially good.
  • Include some reminder to help the recipient feel hopeful, along the lines of: "You are lucky to have such a great family around to support you at this time."
  • Finally, sign off with an indication that the mourner is in your thoughts or, if you are a religious person, your prayers.

Do you have more ideas about how to write a sympathy card, or have you received any that you thought were particularly good? If so, please share in the comments below.

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pslcv358 pslcv358 8 years
My boss's mother in law just passed away. I have worked for him for three years but know the family for 10 years. I have no experience with sudden losses, can you help me??
yooie yooie 8 years
I don't know if it's just me, but sympathy cards helped me a lot when my dad passed away. Sure, they all pretty much said the same thing, but it reminded me that there were a lot of people out there that cared. Those are great tips. Some things IMO, that you should avoid when writing a sympathy card is phrases like "everything will be okay" or "it all happened for a reason" or anything along those lines. Even with good intentions, I think it's inappropriate.
yooie yooie 8 years
I don't know if it's just me, but sympathy cards helped me a lot when my dad passed away. Sure, they all pretty much said the same thing, but it reminded me that there were a lot of people out there that cared. Those are great tips. Some things IMO, that you should avoid when writing a sympathy card is phrases like "everything will be okay" or "it all happened for a reason" or anything along those lines. Even with good intentions, I think it's inappropriate.
muchacha muchacha 8 years
i agree that the mounds of cards could feel overwhelming.. but i liked all of dear's tips, especially the one about sharing an anecdote. it's nice to share a good memory. The time of mourning is not one to bring up the deceased's bad qualities.
Home Home 8 years
Very helpful, thanks...
Home Home 8 years
Very helpful, thanks...
Greggie Greggie 8 years
I agree, that's why I said it's never a bad thing. I just think that "always appreciated" is really an overstatement.
Greggie Greggie 8 years
I agree, that's why I said it's never a bad thing. I just think that "always appreciated" is really an overstatement.
ClassicsDiva ClassicsDiva 8 years
What do you do if the deceased wasn't particularly well-liked? A friend's mother just died recently, and I'd like to write her a note, but she had a very tumultuous relationship with her mother. She loved her and did a lot for her, and got nothing but abuse and criticism in return. Recounting pleasant anecdotes about her mom seems like it would be sort of offensive. I know that she's hurting, and will miss her mother, but is there some way to acknowledge her grief without either sugarcoating her relationship with her mother, or reminding her of how awful it was?Also, Greggie--I have members of my extended family who, when they get sick of reading the condolences, just set the cards aside unread until another time, sometimes months later. Just knowing that people were thinking of them helps, without reading the specific sentiments expressed inside.
ClassicsDiva ClassicsDiva 8 years
What do you do if the deceased wasn't particularly well-liked? A friend's mother just died recently, and I'd like to write her a note, but she had a very tumultuous relationship with her mother. She loved her and did a lot for her, and got nothing but abuse and criticism in return. Recounting pleasant anecdotes about her mom seems like it would be sort of offensive. I know that she's hurting, and will miss her mother, but is there some way to acknowledge her grief without either sugarcoating her relationship with her mother, or reminding her of how awful it was? Also, Greggie--I have members of my extended family who, when they get sick of reading the condolences, just set the cards aside unread until another time, sometimes months later. Just knowing that people were thinking of them helps, without reading the specific sentiments expressed inside.
citizenkane citizenkane 8 years
These are great tips..but I have to agree with Greggie on the upbeat pointer. That seems out of place to me. A simple "please let me know if I can do anything for you" has always worked me.
Greggie Greggie 8 years
Also, I think including "you are lucky for ..." is tacky. The last thing I'd want to hear upon losing a beloved family member is "Well look at the bright side!"
Greggie Greggie 8 years
I think "always appreciated" is an overstatement.I don't think it's ever a bad thing, but I have known plenty of people who would rather simply be left alone in their time of grief. Many have said "If I hear the phrase "our thoughts and prayers are with you" one more time, I'm going to punch something."I think it's a purely individual thing.
Greggie Greggie 8 years
I think "always appreciated" is an overstatement. I don't think it's ever a bad thing, but I have known plenty of people who would rather simply be left alone in their time of grief. Many have said "If I hear the phrase "our thoughts and prayers are with you" one more time, I'm going to punch something." I think it's a purely individual thing.
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