How to Write a Sympathy Card
Sympathy cards are simple to write and comforting to receive.
Not sure of what to say in times of trouble? A few simple but well-chosen words can bring much=-appreciated comfort.
You'll need nothing more than a blank card with a simple picture on the front – or perhaps merely your monogram – or even a simple, plain sheet of white or ivory paper, along with an envelope and a stamp. Remember: no one at a time like this is judging the quality of your stationery.
Many people find the most difficult part of any sympathy card is finding the right words to say – so too often many people say nothing at all. Yet saying almost anything at all is better than saying nothing. Taking a moment simply to say "I'm thinking about you, and I'm sorry for your loss" is often plenty.
Luckily, etiquette comes to your rescue. There is a relatively standard “formula” for sympathy cards – so the words are not difficult to find.
Begin with a standard greeting: Dear (your friend's name)
Avoid phrases like "I know how you feel." Instead, simply write that you are sorry for their loss. Write that you are thinking of them at this painful time.
Often, that is enough, just as it is. If you also wish – genuinely – to offer your support, you can add: “Please feel free to call on me if you need anything.” If you can, be specific in your offer, if you are close friends. For example: “Let me know if I can bring you (or your family supper one night this week. I'll call in a few days to see when a good evening might be to drop off a lasagna.”
During times of stress, it’s far more helpful to offer specific help, including details and times, than it is to lay the burden of “what can I do for you?” on the grieving person’s shoulders.
Again, if this is a close friend, and if you have experienced a similar loss – say, of a parent – you may offer a note of comradeship, for example: “I remember how difficult it was when I lost my own father four years ago. My thoughts (and prayers, if appropriate) are with you (and your family).”
Keep it short. You don't need to, nor do you want to, say very much, since the family will be receiving many cards. Neither do you need to be sparklingly original. The main thing is to express that you care. And the above will do the trick.
Note also: If the family is Roman Catholic, you may go to any Roman Catholic Church office and procure a Mass card, meaning that a Mass will be said in honor of the deceased. To have this said, you will need to know the full name, and accurate spelling, of the deceased.
If the family is Jewish, they will be sitting shiva for seven days immediately following the death, and will be holding services in their home – or the various homes of the families – for several evenings. If you are considering a visit, consult the local rabbi about the best appropriate time.
Again: sympathy cards are for offering comfort. No one is spell-checking you, or searching your words and phrases for wit and wonder. Stick to basics, keep it short, and send it soon. It will bring comfort, which is the most important thing.
Offer comfort. That's what friends are for.
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