Writing a sympathy letter can be an intimidating task - we search for appropriate, genuine and heartfelt words, hoping what we say will be comforting to hear while worrying we may say the wrong thing. While sending a letter can’t take away the pain of losing a loved one, it can help a grieving person feel supported and loved.
It is a difficult task to write a sympathy note - and to help, we have complied a few pieces of advice to follow.
Before you put pen to paper take a moment to just think and reflect on what the departed meant to the person to whom you write, to the people around them, and to you. A common pitfall is just to sit down and try to start writing, don't skip this step. As thoughts come to you, take notes in preparation for writing your letter.
There is no 'right' time. A person receiving a note a month or even a year after their loss will still be of great support. You may also choose to send a sympathy card to note an occasion like the deceased’s birthday, a wedding anniversary, Christmas or any time when the grieving person or family may need extra support.
Words of Sympathy
Start with a direct expression of sympathy and condolences for their loss and bereavement:
‘I’m so deeply sorry for your loss.’
'Please accept my deepest sympathy.'
'Please accept my sincere condolences.'
'My thoughts are with you in these difficult days.'
'I was saddened to hear of your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.'
If you knew the deceased, but not the surviving family member(s) to whom you’re sending your card, it might be helpful to mention your connection to their loved one - for example if you knew the deceased through work, education or some other means.
It can be a great comfort to a grieving person or family to hear what others thought or remember of their loved one and this is where the notes you made during your reflection are used. Do not feel like you have to write a lengthy story. The length should depend on the particular recollection, impression or anecdote you've decided is best.
Help and Support
If you’re in a position to help your recipient close the note with an offer to help or support with arrangements, meals, childcare or even just the offer of a coffee and a chat. Just make sure you follow up on the offer, while also respecting the privacy of the grieving person or family.
Sympathy letters are a heartfelt way to let someone who is going through a difficult spell know that you have them in your thoughts, and that can mean a huge amount to the recipient. Keep in mind that you may also find comfort from writing the letter.