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How do I write a sympathy message to the bereaved?

Messages of sympathy and condolence cards are the traditional way to say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and that we’re thinking of a person or family who’ve been bereaved.

We’ve also come to embrace social media channels, such as Facebook, to convey (and acknowledge) sympathy greetings, while online books of condolence are a wonderful way to keep a loved one’s memory alive – and for friends and relatives to write expressions of sympathy which reveal the special part the person played in their lives.

Sympathy card wording is something that we can be anxious to get right, but written from the heart, a condolence message is a valued comfort for the bereaved. In the days following the death of a loved one, online posts, e-mails, condolence cards, letters and sympathy sentiments are a reminder that family, friends and neighbors care.

It may not be until later until we are ready to read and truly take in the messages of sympathy we receive. Yet in whatever form they come, messages, cards and letters sent with sincere regard are sure to be kept and treasured, read and re-read when the time is right.

When do I send a sympathy card?

It’s traditional to send a sympathy greeting as soon as the news of someone’s death is confirmed. According to social etiquette, it’s usual to address this to their closest family member, although of course, you may wish to extend your condolences to the wider family in your words.

Many people wonder how to begin a message, which appropriately expresses their sympathy. If a death has happened out of the blue, this can be even more difficult to do, especially if you are also coming to terms with the news.

What do I write in a sympathy card?

If you are buying a card, there are many to choose from which express sympathies appropriate to your relationship with the person who has died, or the bereaved. If your association was more distant or formal, then these may say enough. But a few meaningful words of your own will certainly be appreciated. For example:

  • (Name of the person who has died) will always be in our hearts
  • Please accept our deepest sympathies for your loss
  • My thoughts are with you at this time
  • Deepest sympathy as you mourn (name)
  • Words cannot express our sorrow
  • We will miss (name) so very much -We are so sad to hear that you have lost your dear (name), beloved (father/mother/son/daughter) -Our hearts go out to you during this time of sorrow -Please remember that we are here for you -Wishing you peace, comfort and loving memories -(Name) was a wonderful friend who lit up our lives
  • We share in your sadness

If your relationship was closer to the of the person who has died than their family, then be sure to include a line which conveys your association: “I am so sorry for your loss. Martha became a dear friend during the five years we worked together at Jones, Smith and Brown.” Do remember to sign off with your first and last name.

Sympathy verses

Great writers can convey so much in a simple line or two. You may wish to express your sympathy with meaningful words from a poem or work of literature. Our own collection of beautiful poems and verses may inspire you. If the bereaved is a person of faith, they may take comfort from scripture.

Some words with which you can sign off a sympathy card:

  • With sympathy
  • With caring thoughts
  • In loving memory
  • Thinking of you
  • Forever in our hearts

“We will always remember them”

Celebration days are a time when we think about loved ones we have lost and we greatly miss them. A bereaved relative or friend may appreciate that you are thinking about them or their loved one at these times, including birthdays, wedding anniversaries, Mother’s Day and holidays including Thanksgiving. Taking time to send loving memories and wishes is a wonderful way to show that you care and how much their loved one is missed.

PS: “If there is anything I can do to help…”

A sympathy card is an opportunity to express how glad we would be to help and support the bereaved. But it can be hard at the best of times for us to call on kind offers and helping hands, so don’t wait to be asked if you feel there is something useful or practical you can do that won’t intrude on their grief.

Simple errands such as putting the trash out, mowing the yard, or a grocery run to the store are chores that grieving families may be too preoccupied to think about. Cooking a pot meal for a bereaved family’s table or freezer is a wonderful American tradition.

Once the funeral has passed and a few weeks have gone by, friends and family often settle back into their regular routines. This is a time when the bereaved can begin to feel isolated and lonely, so take time to check in on them and make good written words that said “I will be here for you.”