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Can I Send My Condolences by Text, IM or Email?

Updated on July 31, 2008

Basic Etiquette on Texting, Instant Messaging or Emailing Messages

Even in an era of so many different ways of being in touch with people, there are some personal communications, such as condolences or sympathy, that should still be delivered in person or by snail mail.

I started this lens to find an answer to the question, "Can I Text, IM or Email Condolences?" I quickly discovered that there wasn't a whole lot of information on the topic, so I researched the etiquette behind these communication forms. What resulted was a synthesized consensus from the email, IM and texting etiquette experts combined with my expertise in bereavement.

Along the way, the lens turned into a look at the some of the etiquette behind these new(er) methods of communication, email, texting and instant messaging.

Image: Modified Microsoft Image.

Thoughts on Sending Condolences

We live in a time where everyone is texting, instant messaging and sending emails on a daily basis.

However, when it comes to sending condolences for the loss of a loved one, sending a genuine handwritten note, card or letter is still the best way to send your sympathies to someone following a loss according to etiquette and bereavement experts.

Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS

Writing a Condolence Card

SS4URLS

So Sorry for Your Loss

Emailing, Texting, Instant Messaging Defined

There are a variety of ways that messages can be sent these days, other than the old styles letters (snail mail) or by phone.

Definition of email messages, text messaging, instant messaging and sms messaging are provided below.

  1. Email Message

    Electronic mail, often abbreviated to e-mail, email, or simply mail, is a store-and-forward method of writing, sending, receiving and saving messages over electronic communication systems.

    It is an asynchronous form of communicating with someone.


  2. SMS Message

    Short Message Service (SMS) is a communications protocol allowing the interchange of short text messages between mobile telephone devices.

    In parts of the world the term "SMS" is used as a synonym for a text message or the act of sending a text message, even when a different protocol is being used.


  3. Text Message

    Text messaging, or texting is the common term for the sending of "short" (160 characters or fewer, including spaces) text messages from mobile phones using the Short Message Service (SMS). It is available on most digital mobile phones and some personal digital assistants with on-board wireless telecommunications.


  4. Instant Message

    Instant Messaging (IM) is a form of real-time communication between two or more people based on typed text.

    Instant messaging (IM) creates the possibility of real-time text-based communication between two or more participants over the internet or some form of internal network/ intranet.

    It is an synchronous form of communicating with someone.


Share Your Thoughts on Texting or Emailing Condolences or Bad News

What do you think about sending bad news or condolences by text message, instant message or email?

My Thoughts on Emailing Condolences

I strongly recommend that when it comes to sending condolences, stay away from instant messaging and text messaging. These types of communications are received suddenly and can be extremely disruptive during the grieving person's day.

Take a look at the section on the "Six Questions to ask before you hit Send"

A hand-written letter, note, card and even email has the potential of being able to set it aside until the time when the grieving person is better able to handle a grief response, like later in the day or at home.

Image Source: Dara McG. 365days-day191-The Card. Used with Permission.

Email Message

Email Message

Electronic mail, often abbreviated to e-mail, email, or simply mail, is a store-and-forward method of writing, sending, receiving and saving messages over electronic communication systems.

Like letter writing, electronic mail is an asynchronous form of communicating with someone, in other words you don't have to be at the same place and time to communicate.

Sending Email Condolences

Sending Email Condolences
Sending Email Condolences

Thoughts on Sending e-condolences

I would no more send an e-condolence than an e-thank you or an e-wedding invitation. There are rituals you cannot speed up without destroying them.

It would be like serving Thanksgiving dinner at a fast-food restaurant.

Ellen Goodman

Can't wait to stop hurrying

The key point to realize is...

Texting and Instant Messaging are instantaneous.

These messages suddenly appear and can disrupt a grieving person's day.

One minute they may be coping fine and the next, after reading an unexpected text message, they can be grieving the loss again.

Text or IM Condolences with care, if at all.

Six Questions to ask before you hit Send

When considering sending condolences by email, text or instant message there are six questions you should ask yourself:

  1. When will you see the person next?
  2. Why are you sending the message?
  3. Where might the person be when they receive the message?
  4. Who else might see or receive the message?
  5. What else could you do instead of emailing or texting the message?
  6. Perhaps the most important -

    How would you react if you received the message you are planning to send?

How Do You Send Condolences?

You've just heard some bad news about someone you know and you know that you need to respond.


When sending your condolences do you usually

See results

Thoughts on Expressing Condolence in Email

I've read recently, however that many people find email acceptable to express condolences because the medium offers a sense of immediacy that snail mail doesn't.

Sheryl Linsell-Roberts

135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages

What to Include in and Email Condolences Note

When writing a Condolence Note, whether written or by email, be sure to include the following:

  1. Acknowledge the loss.
  2. Express your sympathy.
  3. Include a memory of the deceased.
  4. Note special qualities of the deceased or the bereaved.
  5. End with a thoughtful word or phrase.

    Holding you in my thoughts, You are in my thoughts, You are in my prayers, Wishing you strength in the difficult time

Thoughts on Sending Initial Condolences by Email

If you are informed by email of a death, it is perfectly acceptable to respond to the sender by email with your initial condolences, particularly if you think you are going to interact with the sender before a letter would reach him. But this shouldn't stop you from sending a proper letter of sympathy afterward.

In fact, your email should say something like, "A letter will follow, but I did want to let you know right away how sorry I was to hear of your loss."

David Shipley and Will Schwalbe

SEND: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home

Send: The Essential Guide to Email on Amazon

Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home
Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home

This book aims to improve the reader's skills as sender and recipient: devising effective subject lines and exploring "the politics of the cc"; how to steer clear of legal issues; and how to recognize different types of attachments.

They also offer "seven big reasons to love email," along with quick guides to instant messaging and e-mail technology.

 

Guidelines for General Email Etiquette

There are a few important points to remember when composing email, particularly when the email's recipient is a superior and/or someone who does not know you.

  1. Be sure to include a meaningful subject line.

    this helps clarify what your message is about and may also help the recipient prioritize reading your email.

  2. Open your email with a greeting.

    Use a formal greeting "Dear Dr. Jones," or "Dear Ms. Smith," just like a written letter, unless you know the person well.

  3. Use standard spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. THERE'S NOTHING WORSE THAN AN EMAIL SCREAMING A MESSAGE IN ALL CAPS.
  4. Write clear, short paragraphs. Be direct and to the point.

    Professionals and academics alike see their email accounts as business. Don't write unnecessarily long emails or otherwise waste the recipient's time.

  5. Be friendly and cordial, but don't try to joke around

    Jokes and witty remarks may be inappropriate and, more commonly, may not come off appropriately in email.

  6. Remember that your tone can't be heard in e-mail. E-mail communication can't convey the nuances of verbal communication. Some people use emoticons, but use them sparingly so that you don't appear unprofessional.
  7. Use a signature that includes contact information.

    To ensure that people know who you are, include a signature that has your contact information, including your mailing address, Web site, and phone numbers.

  8. Don't use e-mail as an excuse to avoid personal contact. Don't forget the value of face-to-face or even voice-to-voice communication. E-mail communication isn't appropriate when sending confusing or emotional messages.
  9. Remember that e-mail isn't private.

    People have been fired for using e-mail inappropriately. E-mail is considered company property and can be retrieved, examined, and used in a court of law. Never put in an e-mail message anything that you wouldn't put on a postcard. Remember that e-mail can be forwarded, so unintended audiences may see what you've written.

Email the Manual in the Amazon Spotlight

Email: The Manual: Everything You Should Know About Email Etiquette, Policies and Legal Liability Before You Hit Send
Email: The Manual: Everything You Should Know About Email Etiquette, Policies and Legal Liability Before You Hit Send

This guide trains users to present themselves in email as polished professionals who understand the importance of etiquette and write effective emails.

This comprehensive reference guide provides tips for sending effective and professional emails that are effective, polite, and informative.

 

The Email Etiquette Revolution

This "revolution" is for those who have the voice to stand up for the importance of taking the time to show courtesy, to spell check, to say Hi and Thank You! in e-mails.

To make clear that showing concern for those on the other side by virtue of our actions and words is simply common courtesy.

To support that understanding just enough about how technology works to use it properly is part and parcel of participation. And that to hide behind your screen as an excuse to be lazy or crude will no longer be acceptable.

The goal is not to tell people what to do or hinder free speech as some will immediately assume. The purpose is to ensure the online world does not degrade to the point where we no longer want to participate or make the efforts necessary towards behaving in such a way that allows each and every one

Email Etiquette Books by Judith Kallos on Amazon

Can I send condolences by email?

Thoughts on sending sympathies by e-mail

It depends.

Email is slowly starting to be recognized by some etiquette experts as an alternative way of sending at least one's initial condolences especially if you are informed by email of a death or a loss.

An email condolence would also be acceptable if this is the way you usually communicate with your friend. Email is a quick way to reach out and say "I am sorry for your loss." Be sure to include an appropriate Subject line e.g. "Heard the News. Sorry for Your Loss" so the person can screen the email and read it later, if need be.

Email may be good for the initial contact and condolences, but should not replace a phone call or a formal written note or letter.

Text Message

Texting Message

Text messaging, or texting is the common term for the sending of "short" (160 characters or fewer, including spaces) text messages from mobile phones using the Short Message Service (SMS).

It is available on most digital mobile phones and some personal digital assistants with on-board wireless telecommunications.

A Text Condolence Mesage

A Text Condolence Message
A Text Condolence Message

Txtng: The Gr8 Db8 in the Amazon Spotlight

Txtng: The Gr8 Db8
Txtng: The Gr8 Db8

Crystal, a world renowned linguist and prolific author on the uses and abuses of English, here looks at every aspect of the phenomenon of text-messaging and considers its effects on literacy, language, and society.

He explains how texting began, how it works, who uses it, and how much it is used, and he shows how to interpret the mixture of pictograms, logograms, abbreviations, symbols, and wordplay typically used in texting.

The book is scheduled to be released in early September.

 

IMS VSF

I am Sorry. Very Sad Face

Condolence Note Sent on a Cell Phone

Condolence Note Sent on a Cell Phone
Condolence Note Sent on a Cell Phone

Thoughts on Texting Condolences

Breaking up with someone by text is about as sensitive as texting condolences.

It is cruel, cowardly and disrespectful.

Maureen Matthews

J - its nt U, its me :(

Lindsay Lohan's Text Condolence Fiasco

In 2006 following the death of director Robert Altman, Linday Lohan created quite a stir for the condolences that she sent on her Blackberry.

She was extensively criticized in the media for the poor spelling and grammar in the message.

To me it seems that many failed to pick up in the fact that she felt that Altman "was the closest thing to my father and grandfather that I really do believe I've had in several years."

This is the ending of what she texted to the Altman Family:

  • If I can do anything for those who are in a very hard time right now, as I'm one of them with hearing this news, please take advantage of the fact that I'm just a phone call away.
  • God Bless, peace and love always.
  • Thank You,
  • "BE ADEQUATE"
  • Lindsay Lohan
Perhaps the one lesson reinforced here is that when sending condolences it is better to compose an email or letter over time before sending.

Srry for ur loss

Sorry for your loss

Thoughts on Breaking Up by Text Message

People in their teens and 20s feel more comfortable using a text message to communicate something serious than having to confront someone.

Delly Tamer

CEO LetsTalk.com

Articles on Breaking up by Email

Experts on cell phone and text message use and etiquette said Federline was not the first to be dumped by text, and certainly will not be the last with rising numbers of teenager and 20-somethings using text to avoid confrontation.

Can I text my condolences?

Thoughts on sending condolences by text message

Most likely No.

Most of the etiquette experts believe, and I agree, that texting is too informal and should only be used for casual topics or informational briefs.

Serious topics, such as the death of a loved one, a major loss or breaking up with someone are not appropriate for sending a text message.

I said "most likely no," because I haven't been able to find anything written by avid texters, those communicating with each other primarily through text messages to see if they feel this is an acceptable means of communicating condolences. I am hoping that some will weigh in their opinions on this lens.

Instant Messaging

Instant Message

Instant Messaging (IM) is a form of real-time communication between two or more people based on typed text.

Instant messaging (IM) creates the possibility of real-time text-based communication between two or more participants over the internet or some form of internal network/ intranet.

Many use Instant Messaging to describe the type of communication that can occur on a desktop, laptop, PDA, Blackberry or Pocket PC.

An IM Note with Bad News

An IM Note with Bad News
An IM Note with Bad News

Note about the Above IM Message

The IM message between myself and my husband above was done for the purpose of creating this lens. We *did not* have a dog that died.

In reality, the IM would have been too slow and I would have picked up the phone to call him.

Thoughts on Condolence Text Seeming Inappropriate

A condolence text message on the death of a close friend's mother seemed to me completely inappropriate.

Neri Livneh

The medium is the message

135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages in the Amazon Spotlight

135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages: Plus Blogs, Chatrooms, and Texting
135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages: Plus Blogs, Chatrooms, and Texting

This book offers advice on writing electronic messages that are polished, polite, and effective.

Author Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts shows how effective electronic communication can jump-start your business, advance your career, and expand your social network.

135 Tips on Email and Instant Messages addresses issues such as how libel and copyright laws apply to the Internet, using proper etiquette, and organizing a cluttered in-box.

 

Thoughts on Condolence IM

Can you believe I received a condolence IM when my father passed away?

Not appropriate!

Use IM for casual topics or informational briefs. Serious topics are not for IM. Can you believe I received a condolence IM when my father passed away? Not appropriate!

Certain topics and situations require face-to-face meetings or at the very least a good old fashioned telephone call or card stating your feelings.

IM is not the place for serious topics, emotional or confrontational issues.

Judith Kallos

Instant Messaging Etiquette

Instant Message Condolences

Instant Message Condolences
Instant Message Condolences

Thoughts on Sending IM Condolences

When it comes to sending condolences, stay away from instant messaging and text messaging.

These types of communications are received suddenly and can be extremely disruptive during the grieving person's day.

Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS

Texting and Instant Messaging are instantaneous.

Text or IM Condolences with care, if at all.

Top 10 Texting or SMS (Short Message Service) Guidelines

As text messaging and mobile phone use in general has grown in popularity, the excitement over using new technology clashes head-on with common courtesy. It is not surprising that this has given rise to poor mobile-phone and Texting manners backlash.

TheFeature compiled a list of top 10 texting guidelines to avoid SMS (Short Message Service) miscues and text-message mis-steps.

Source: TheFeature.com staff, June 2001. Don't b a txt msg abuzr: Top 10 ways to avoid SMS miscues and text-message missteps.

  1. Common courtesy still rules.

    Contrary to popular belief, composing an SMS while you're in a face-to-face conversation with someone is just about as rude as taking a voice call. Your companions deserve the respect of your full attention.

  2. Remember that SMS is informal.

    SMS shouldn't be used for formal invitations or to dump your girlfriend or boyfriend. The casualness of SMS diminishes the strength and meaning of the message.

  3. Don't get upset if you don't get a reply.

    Before you text someone and get frustrated at the lack of a response, be sure that they're familiar with how to use the service, and that their carrier will accept messages from yours.

    This is extremely important in the US, where the minefield of standards and systems means there's a more than likely chance your message won't get to its intended destination.

  4. Be aware of your tone.

    It is extremely difficult to discern tone in text messages, just as in e-mail. What seems to you to be a completely innocuous message may be grossly misinterpreted by the recipient, causing certain discomfort if not irreparable harm.

    Judicious use of smiles ( :), ;P, etc.) can help some, but remember, the best way to avoid misunderstanding is to actually speak to someone.

  5. Don't SMS while you're driving.

    Talking on the phone is bad enough. You won't know what hit you - or what you hit - if you are pounding out a message on your keyboard.

  6. Leave the slang to the kids.

    Don't expect your stodgy superiors at work to be hip to the lingo of the SMS streets. And don't expect to win points with your kids by trying to be cool, either.

  7. Remember that SMS can be traced.

    Unlike landline phones, SMS messages, just like any mobile phone function, can display the name of the sender. Anonymous messages - if you must send them - are still best sent from Web sites.

  8. Be conscientious of others' schedules.

    Don't assume that because you are awake, working, not busy, or sober that the person you're texting is as well. Many a pleasant slumber have been interrupted by recurring "beep-beep...beep-beeps" of messages of such grave importance as "what are you doing?", "are you awake?", "check out channel 2...it's funny," then the penultimate "why aren't you writing back?", before finally ending with "I guess you aren't getting these messages."

  9. If it's immediate, make a voice call.

    If you can't get through and your text message is ignored, there's probably a good reason. There are still some times when people don't even have a thumb free to respond.

  10. Remember that your phone does have an off button.

    There are very, very few things in the world that absolutely cannot wait.

Gender Differences in Instant Messaging on Amazon

Gender Differences in Instant Messaging - Quantitative Analysis of Linguistic Characteristics
Gender Differences in Instant Messaging - Quantitative Analysis of Linguistic Characteristics

This study used quantitative content analysis software to create a linguistic profile of college student instant messaging (IM) behaviors to investigate sex differences in text-based communication.

A multidimensional profile of linguistic characteristics of IM conversation was developed, and a comparison was made between the linguistic characteristics of IM, emotion writing, control writing, and talking.

 

Can I send an IM with condolences?

Thoughts on sending sympathies by Instant Message

Most definitely No.

Most of the etiquette experts believe, and I agree, that sending an instant message is too informal. This form of communication should only be used for casual topics or informational briefs.

An Instant Message is delivered instantaneously and can potentially be extremely disruptive for the person receiving the message depending on where the person is, who else is around and what the person is doing.

Millions of people have viewed the YouTube clip when Kevin Federline received the news from Britney Spears that she wanted a divorce. He had to take a 30 minute break from filming the reality show.

You can imagine how disruptive getting an instant message would be in the middle of an important meeting, during a conference call, while at work, while driving...so think carefully before clicking "send."

Email is slowly starting to be recognized by some etiquette experts as an alternative way of sending at least initial condolences.

One of the main points to remember about these newer forms of communicating is that an Instant Message or a Text Message is delivered instantaneously. Depending on what the grieving person is doing, an instant message may be extremely disruptive.

Most of the etiquette experts believe, and I concur, that texting and IM (instant messaging) are too informal and should only be used for casual topics or informational briefs.

Text Messages and Instant Messages should not be used for more serious topics like breaking bad news, breaking up or sending condolences for a death.

Bottom Line

You still can't send a hug by text message.

Neri Livneh

The medium is the message


Creative Commons License © 2008 Kirsti A. Dyer MD, MS, FT. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

The material in this resource book may be copied and reproduced on websites or in newsletters, ezines provided that the Author's Biography information is included with any article.

Longer excerpts from this online resource book may not be copied, duplicated or reproduced for use in a for-profit setting without prior written permission by the author.

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This lens benefits Room to Read and the Squidoo Charity Fund.

Room to Read partners with local communities throughout the developing world to establish schools, libraries, and other educational infrastructure. They work to intervene early in the lives of children in the belief that education is a lifelong gift that empowers people to ultimately improve socioeconomic conditions for their families, communities, countries, and future generations.

What you think about sending condolences by text, instant message or email?

Reader Feedback on the Texting, IM or Emailing Condolence Lens - Your Place for feedback, comments, stories and suggestions...

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thanks for the info

    • profile image

      agent009 5 years ago

      Depending on how you hear it, I think it's alright to text/instant message condolences. If you have the chance though, doing it in person is better.

    • profile image

      anilsaini 6 years ago

      nice lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is a very long lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      ...what about the alternative being "not sending anything"?

    • RuthCoffee profile image

      RuthCoffee 9 years ago

      Good topic, I've featured your lens on my Text Messaging lens.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 9 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      Amazing lens! What a necessary topic.

    • The Eclectic Muse profile image

      The Eclectic Muse 9 years ago

      Personally, I'm a card and flowers type gal. Super lens!