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Sympathy Note & Condolence Letter Etiquette

Updated on April 28, 2015

Sympathy Note & Condolence Letter Etiquette Introduction

It is hard to find the right words when someone loses a loved one. We desperately want to offer them comfort, but what can we say or do?

It is never an easy task, but this lens will look at the ways you can offer sympathy and condolences. It will show you the etiquette of writing sympathy notes and condolence letters, or whether it's more appropriate to offer your time or offer bereavement gifts like sympathy gift baskets.

Sympathy Card Photo Credit: Kim Singdahlsen

Why Write a Sympathy Note or Condolence Letter

Don't ever be in two minds about sending a sympathy note or condolence letter offering your support. Always send one, as your sympathy will be both appreciated and remembered. Whether it's a friend or a relative, always send a note or letter.

It is hard to find the right words, but you must not let that stop you, as your thoughts and effort will be appreciated and offer comfort in sad times. Things like flowers and gift baskets are a nice thought, but they don't last and aren't as effective in offering condolences to someone in writing. They can however, be sent in addition to condolences.

Verbal messages are also often forgotten in the early stages of grief, but a sympathy note or condolence note is committing your sympathy to paper and can be referred to again and again throughout the grieving process. They are an important way of extending the memory.

It is usually the case, that the grieving have people around them for the first few days of bereavement. When they come to be on their own, notes of condolence are often read for comfort, strength and to help them not feel so alone, as they can see people are thinking of them.

If you answer this poll, those people visiting this lens after you will have a better ideas in how best to offer their condolences.

What Do You Find Most Comforting in Times of Sadness?

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Sympathy Note and Condolence Letter Etiquette

Think of writing a condolence note as part of basic etiquette. Just as you would say 'please' and 'thank you', you should express you sympathy in the form of a written note or letter to the bereaved. Here you will find a guide to condolence etiquette.

You can either use a note card or a blank piece of paper for your condolences, remember it is the thought that you put into your words that really counts.

Always put a lot of thought into what you write in a sympathy note. It doesn't have to be long (no more than a page), and the words can be simple.

Make sure you know what religion the person who has passed away was, so that you do not write anything that would be against their religion in the personal note to the members of the family.

A good format for a condolence note is:

(a) Give a tribute to the deceased: pay your respects and provide a tribute to the dead.

(b) Offer the grieving your condolences: say to the bereaved how sorry you are for their loss. Be yourself and write as if you were speaking the condolences to them.

(c) Acknowledge their grief: you can acknowledge the grief has happened by offering whatever support you can and personally expressing your own deepest sympathy.

If you knew the person who has passed away, write about a memory you have about them, or an act of kindness that they did for you. If you have some photos, you could include those in the note too. Photos can help the grieving process, as it helps people remember the 'good times'.

If you don't know the person who passed away, talk about the importance of that person to the person who the sympathy note is intended for.

Be genuine and write from the heart. Let them know that you are there for them, if they need you for any support or help. But make this expression of help in real terms, like they can phone you day or night, or you can come and stay with them for a couple weeks. If this is the case include your home number and cell phone on the note.

Always sign the condolence note with your full name, as you don't want your sympathy note to be confused with someone else if you share the same name.

Always hand write a condolence note, as this shows the recipient that you are expressing your deepest sympathies in a personal manner. This means strictly no emails (although the sympathy video card below is quite tasteful).

Sympathy Card Video

Finding the Right Words for Condolences

By selecting the right words for your condolence notes, you will help the bereaved find comfort and strength, because they can see that you have but thought into what you have written. Here are some phrases to help you create your heartfelt condolence note:

We were so sorry to hear about your great loss

My thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of sorrow

God Bless you and your family during this painful and difficult time

May God give you the strength to you need to get through this difficult time

May God Bless you in this time of need

During this time of sorrow, you are in our thoughts and prayers

Our hearts go out to you

May time help your sorrow and your memories sustain you

In friendship and sympathy

We are remembering you and your family in our thoughts and prayers


Other Ways to Offer Your Condolences

I know that we have highlighted the importance of writing a condolence note above all gifts, but what it stopping you from writing both a condolence note and giving bereavement gifts?

Obviously no words or gifts will eliminate the pain of bereavement, but they can offer comfort, which is the precise reason why we give them.

If you live near the bereaved, the very best thing you can do is offer your time and support. See if you can help by doing things like cleaning the house, picking up the kids, walking the dog or sorting out the mail. These gestures will mean the world and be of immense value to the bereaved.

However, if you live too far away to be able to offer your physical support, there are a number of bereavement gifts, which you could consider giving like homemade cooked food, so they don't have to cook (it is likely this will be a good reminder for them to eat), sympathy gift baskets, flowers or fruit baskets.

Sympathy gift baskets and sympathy cookie gifts make great gifts, as there is a variety to choose from. You decide whether you want to send fruit, cookies, chocolate, relaxing CDs, books like 'Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul', whatever you feel is most relevant to the recipient.

Also another nice thought is to delay sending the gift basket for two weeks. This way you can remind the bereaved that you are still thinking of them and recognize the fact that they are still grieving.

A great symbol of remembrance is a memorial candle or remembrance vase. You can use them for special events like weddings or holidays to honor a loved one, or just put them somewhere special in your house to reflect on fond memories all year round.

Condolence Letter Tips

Condolences Etiquette: Always give your Sympathy

No-one is denying that it is difficult to give your condolences, but whether it is a friend, family, coworker or acquaintance you should always offer your sympathy.

Don't worry about saying the wrong thing or that you will intrude on someone's grief, if you don't say anything at all you will end up regretting it. In fact giving your condolences is the kindest thing you can do, as you acknowledge their loss and show that you care.

Don't let feeling uncomfortable stop you saying 'sorry to hear about your loss' - it's not about you and your feelings, it's about giving your support.

If you can think of a tip or advice not covered here, please feel free to share those inspiring thoughts. Perhaps you have an experience you'd like to share, then write it here. Do you have any ideas for gifts, then pop them down here. Anything goes as long as it is on the topic to help the bereaved.

What is Your Take on Condolence Etiquette?

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    • LeonRusselman profile image

      LeonRusselman 4 years ago

      Hi -

      Nice lens and quite informative on the topic of condolences and etiquette.

      I have found what works for me (don't know how well it's received) is to keep the note short and to the point. I generally say that our thoughts are with the person to whom you are writing -as well as the family. I might add a little more if the person was close to me or if I knew him/her well. But not much.

      The most important thing to the receiver of the note, I think, is to have acknowledgement that he/she is in your thoughts.



    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 5 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      I came back to bless this lens. It is very helpful! Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I found your post that comes with valuable information that is interesting, clear and logical. Great help! Thank you for sharing your thoughts about message of sympathy.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      @Gypzeerose: And I forgot - angel blessed. :)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 5 years ago

      Excellent article about something that is an unfortunate part of everyone's life. I think the important thing is to say something, even "I really don't know what to say, but I am so sorry for your loss." I think listening is more important than talking at times like this. And do send a real letter or card! I would hate getting anything electronic at that time.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      precious article you have here, thank you for having me think and allowing such memories to come out.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great leans you have here. Very informative about sympathy words. I'm looking forward to your other posts.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 6 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      This is a good reminder for us. When my dad died we were flooded with company. When family and friends went home and a bit of time passed I read the cards. I still have them and the other day was looking through them again. I was comforted yet again by our wonderful friends and family. My advice .. do keep giving sympathy cards.

    • squid-janices7 profile image

      squid-janices7 6 years ago

      Great advice - it is always tough to find the right words for someone going through such a difficult time. You have some good ideas for sympathy gifts here as well.

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 6 years ago from USA

      Valuable advice for letters and notes that are the most difficult to write. Blessed by a Squid Angel ~

    • kimmer1491 profile image

      Kim 9 years ago from Big Lake, MN

      An acquaintance offered the most thoughtful condolence during my grandfather's funeral, he gave us a sympathy card and inside had written out his favorite memory of my grandpa. We made copies and sent them to family members so they would have a written reminder of grandpa's love and kindness.