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How to Write a Sympathy Note

Updated on September 11, 2014

Avoid the awkwardness and learn how to write a sympathy note

Writing a sympathy note is one of those awkward moments we all face sooner or later. At some time or another in your life you will know someone who has lost a loved one, whether human or pet. You may even have known the one who died.

So what do you do? Sit in your room with your head in your hands and wait for enough time to pass? Probably not. Hopefully not. Hopefully, what you will do is express your sympathy.

It is a generous and thougtful gesture to show our support to the bereaved. The big question is how to do this. How do you write a sympathy note?

Here, I'll take you through several scenarios that will help you to express sympathy easier and with more confidence. I'll share with you what it felt like to receive those sympathy notes and help you find your way to write your own notes.

All card images are used with permission by where you can find every one of the cards shown here, along with plenty more choices,

Sympathy for Loss of Mother
Sympathy for Loss of Mother

What I Learned When My Mother Died

Let me clue you in

I use my own experience here, plus comments from many others who have been in this situation.

My mother died several years ago. She had been an active volunteer, was a member of a large extended family, and had easily made friends all her life. She died after a long illness.

The sympathy notes and cards were numerous. And I read every single one.

Many of the cards and notes came from her friends and relatives, but many came from the friends and relatives of her family. My own friends, my own in-laws, my children's friends, my siblings' friends, in-laws and work associates all sent some form of written sympathy.

At such a time of loss, the act of reading the notes and cards helped me feel stronger, helped me feel closer to my mother, and helped me appreciate the support offered through the act of sending those cards.

That's why you want to send a card - just to show your support to your friend, relative, co-worker and the family.

The Nature of Sympathy

The Nature of Sympathy (Library of Conservative Thought)
The Nature of Sympathy (Library of Conservative Thought)

When you want to know about sympathy and what it is, how to handle it and more, this book is a useful guide for you.

General Sympathy
General Sympathy

Phone Call or Card to Express Sympathy

Which is appropriate?

Is it better to make a phone call? Or send a card?

The answer is - that depends. It depends on how close you really are to the family.

One thing to remember, the family will gather together. They will notify people of the death. They will work out the details of the funeral. They will try to deal with their own grief. And they will talk about the loss, remembering family stories, retelling last moments and answering the same questions over and over.

Are you close enough to the family to make a phone call that will interrupt this? Are you able to say words that will be supportive, not awkward?

If you can't answer "yes" to each question, then you need to send a card.

Cards help in another way. They have more staying power. A card can be read over and over by more of the family than just the receiver of the phone call. It can be read during a time convenient for the family members.

When a Gift is in Order

Sometimes sending a gift to the bereaved family members makes sense to you. You will want a gift that will be helpful to them as well as a way to express your sympathy.

I've chosen these as useful, supportive, calming, and even helpful.

Gifts of food are also useful, especially to the family members as they struggle with their loss.

General Sympathy
General Sympathy

What to Write In a Sympathy Card

Avoid the awkward time

Expressing your sympathy can be one of the most awkward things you have to do. Second to, maybe, your first date, but really awkward just the same.

The last thing you want to do is the foot-in-the-mouth thing, but what do you write?

What you write is simple. Really, just a simple message of support.

Let's take the scenario of a friend, someone you know pretty well, who lost a close relative. Your sympathy words can be as simple as: I am sorry to hear of your loss. I'm here for you if you need anything.

A second scenario might be that you knew the one who died and you want to express your sympathy to the family. Again, simple words work well: We were honored to know Linda. Her energy and support was a treat to us all. She will be missed. You are all in our prayers and thoughts.

A third scenario could be an associate, someone you didn't know close but possibly worked with, lost a close relative. This is definitely the time you keep it simple: I want to express my sympathy at the loss of your mother. Know that you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

Simple wording does work well.

General Sympathy
General Sympathy

How to Pick a Sympathy Card

You can make it personal

OK, so you are going to send a card. Now what?

Here you have two options. You can use a nice notecard that you have available. But, remember to pick a notecard that is appropriate. A cartoon on the front is rarely appropriate.

Or, you can pick out a greeting card. Nearly every store carries a selection of greeting cards. There are multiple on-line greeting card options. I'll tell you about my choice later.

Whatever greeting card you choose, you can make it personal. Say your friend loves roses, or you know her mother did, pick a card with roses on it.

If pets were important in his/her life, choose a card with an dog or cat on it. Butterflies are always a beautiful option, too.

A little personal note here: the cards that had long poems were not read by any of us when my mother died. We all skipped the long printed stuff and went right to the personal message at the bottom. So don't worry about reading through a long verse on a card. Choose a more simple sentiment.

Pet sympathy
Pet sympathy

Death of a Pet

Do you send a card?

Sending a card to someone who has lost a beloved pet is a generous gesture.

I have lost many pets in my lifetime, and almost never received a note of sympathy. The one exception was a veterinary clinic. When I had to put down a beloved cat who had shared my life for many years, I received a beautiful sympathy card from the clinic. It was personally signed by many of the staff, including the vet himself. It was a simple, yet so wonderful, gesture. I appreciated it.

Remember, many pets are part of the family. When they die, the grief is strong. So what do you write? Again, keep it simple. Like "You are in my thoughts during this difficult time." Or "I was so sorry to hear of your loss of Rover. I know you have wonderful memories of his life with you." Or "I know you miss your beloved Fluffy. I'm here for you if you need anything." Simple statements that tell the bereaved you are thinking of them are all that is necessary.

So don't feel silly about sending a card for the death of a pet. It will be a very welcome gesture on your part.

Sympathy for Loss of Father
Sympathy for Loss of Father

Sympathy Cards On-Line

My favorite, plus others

Everything is available online, including greeting cards. The choices are endless. There are very large sites with hundreds of thousands of cards. There are smaller sites with less than a hundred. And there is my favorite.

SandraRose Designs is an online store with the most beautiful cards I have ever seen. The cards in this article are just some of the greeting cards from SandraRose Designs. You have the convenience of sending the card directly from the site with your own personal message. You can even set up your calendar and get email reminders for all the important occasions in your life. How convenient is that?

If you are looking for something special, SandraRose will work with you to design just the card you want.

© 2009 BuckHawkcenter

Was How to Write a Sympathy Note Helpful? - Suggestions, comments, questions?

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    • GypsyOwl profile image

      Deb Bryan 3 years ago from Chico California

      Thoughtful and helpful sympathy note suggestions! Thank you. My friend lost her husband a few days ago and tomorrow is the funeral. Finding your page today is heartwarmingly timely.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      Susan, this is a wonderfully helpful article about a really important subject. I always have struggled with knowing the right thing to say to comfort someone who has experienced a loss, and I've bookmarked your wise insights for future reference. Pinned to my Tips on Effective Communication board on Pinterest.

    • profile image

      dudokdudok 5 years ago

      Very sound advice. It never is easy to express sympathy.

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 5 years ago

      I'm so glad you included sympathy cards for the loss of a pet. Sometimes people don't realize that there is a mourning period when people lose their pet companions.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Writing a sympathy note is often one of the hardest things for me to do so your lens will be a help.

    • DvdMovieGirl profile image

      DvdMovieGirl 5 years ago

      This is a very helpful lens. Unfortunately there comes a time in all our lives when we are called upon to send sympathy cards, notes and letters. it is not easy and I am grateful for the information given here.

    • profile image

      TheToyStore 5 years ago

      Beautiful sympathy cards!

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 5 years ago

      Very good lens, sometimes is difficult to wite a Sympathy Note

    • profile image

      TheJewelryStore 5 years ago

      This is truly a tremendous help and the cards are really beautiful!

    • jonathanwm profile image

      jonathanwm 5 years ago

      Nice len & highly informative

    • profile image

      xtianfriborg13 5 years ago

      Learned a lot from this lens! I'd be careful when the time comes I need to send my sympathies for other people. Thanks for posting!

    • missmary1960 profile image

      missmary1960 5 years ago

      I find if you take the time to write Any thought to someone in this position , it's what matters, you gave some terrific advice here ;) Great lens

    • OUTFOXprevention1 profile image

      OUTFOXprevention1 5 years ago

      Such a good skill to have.

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      Very helpful. Unfortunately this has been a bad year for old friends and classmates passing. I'm not supposed to be at that age yet... It is always difficult to find the right thing to say.

    • Spiderlily321 profile image

      Spiderlily321 5 years ago

      Excellent lens. It can be very helpful for so many people. Thanks for sharing

    • LaraineRoses profile image

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

      It is not easy talking with people who have lost a member of the family. This is a very helpful lens. Angel blessings!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Sympathy Notes have more variety of styles now than before.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      interesting tips very informative

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 5 years ago

      I'm afraid 2012 has brought a lot of loss to my social circle, though little of it has touched me directly. A sympathy note is a great way to send some love and support without burdening a freshly bereaved friend with the need for an immediate response.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 5 years ago from USA

      What a difficult topic to write about, yet so needed. It was such a blessing when I have received cards and notes after a loved one went home. Finding the right words is hard, but it is worth sharing that you care and are thinking about them during their time of grief.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      As an interesting read, I recommend it to my lenses.

    • Camden1 profile image

      Camden1 5 years ago

      This was very helpful. I received quite a few sympathy notes after the deaths of my parents and I was amazed at how loved they made me feel. You're right - just keep it simple. People will remember that you sent a sympathy note, probably not so much your exact words.

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      Yes.. thanks for this.. so many people don't know what to say to people when they have a loved one die, and they just need to know that saying anything is much better than saying nothing at all. :) Blessed!

    • Cari Kay 11 profile image

      Kay 5 years ago

      Wonderful page! Blessed!

    • profile image

      Ladybird 5 years ago

      Thanks for this info. It has been useful for me.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you so much. Good job.

    • profile image

      SquirrelWhispers 5 years ago

      Allow me to whisper my latest secret! This is one of my favorite articles on Squidoo :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thank you tor this lense, great job

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      This is lovely, helpful guidance. I have three sympathy cards to write today (not a good week). I still favour the old fashioned sympathy card or personal stationery over online options. These follow telephone calls to two families in our current personal circumstances, but every situation is always slightly different. Blessings.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Beautiful sympathy cards. I need all the help I can get when it comes to writing a sympathy card. Thanks for the advice.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 5 years ago from California

      Unfortunately there will always be a need for sympathy cards. I like how you presented this, and the cards are wonderful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I think this was very useful information buckhawk.

      P.S. Nice set-up

    • profile image

      sheezie77 5 years ago

      I enjoy reading your lens, nicely done!

    • profile image

      Doc_Holliday 5 years ago

      By coincidence this is timely advice for me.

    • SailingPassion LM profile image

      SailingPassion LM 5 years ago

      A great help for such a difficult situation

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 5 years ago

      @kristalulabelle: I'm so glad this helped you. That is what makes writing something like this worthwhile.

    • kristalulabelle profile image

      Kristen 5 years ago from Wisconsin

      Thank you for your help, I never know what to write. A strange thing happened today...I was taking a look at the list of lenses you have published this morning and made a mental note that I wanted to come back to this lens next time I needed to write out a sympathy card. Well, at work today, I found out one of my customers passed away. Of course, I came straight here to find out what I should write! Thank you again.

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 5 years ago

      What a wonderful reference article for anyone needing to write a sympathy note. Sharing your personal experience is so kind and thoughtful. Lots more sympathy notes will be written thanks to your sharing. :D

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      I just put one in the mail today...with a a friend who's father passed away. Wonderful information and beautiful cards here.

    • ogrote profile image

      ogrote 5 years ago

      This has been quite helpful. Very difficult to write any emotional message.

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 6 years ago from California

      This has been helpful. I too have created some sympathy cards on Zazzle and have sent a few of my own. It is difficult to know what to write but short and sincere seems best.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 6 years ago

      Thanks for all your helpful tips about something that can be quite challenging when expressing sympathy to a friend or relative. ~~Blessed~~

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 6 years ago from Albany New York

      Great topic that touches everyone. The cards I received for the passing of close relatives gave me an insight into their lives, activities and friends.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is so helpful and pretty. We all need help in knowing what to say at times, but its important to express our sympathy.

    • profile image

      preenit 6 years ago


    • teristazko profile image

      teristazko 6 years ago

      I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. You are in my thoughts today! I really enjoyed your lens. It really simpifies sympathy card etiquette. Thank you for sharing your story. Bless you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Very touching lens and very informative about sympathy condolence messages. Great lens!

    • BuckHawkcenter profile image

      BuckHawkcenter 6 years ago

      @Country-Sunshine: The cards from my mother's death are still brought and read. There is a comfort in that. I'm glad you have at least a few cards to re-read. It really does make a difference.

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 6 years ago from Texas

      I totally agree that sympathy cards are important. When I lost my husband, few people sent them. Although it's been 1 1/2 years since he passed, I occasionally bring them back out and read them again. A kind word or two shows the recipient that you cared enough about the deceased and/or family to send a note, and it is always much appreciated. Great article!

    • TTMall profile image

      TTMall 6 years ago

      Loved Your Lens! You really put a lot of good information in it.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 6 years ago

      Very thoughtful lens. Thank you!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 6 years ago

      Your lens covered this topic so nicely. Blessed!

    • profile image

      Edutopia 6 years ago

      A very important but oft overlook subject matter. This lens will be a great help for people who've overlooked just how important a skill this is to have.

    • profile image

      ifuturz 6 years ago

      Very Helpful

    • profile image

      ifuturz 6 years ago

      Very Helpful

    • DIY Mary profile image

      DIY Mary 6 years ago

      Writing a sympathy card is difficult because I'm afraid of saying the wrong thing. Your info is very useful and helpful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Returning in appreciation with an angel blessing.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 6 years ago

      This is a beautiful and of course very thoughtful lens. It is difficult to know what to say or do when someone has passed or some other tragedy has happened to someone. A card with some words of sympathy is a wonderful thing to start with. Angel blessed lens.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image

      Tolovaj Publishing House 6 years ago from Ljubljana

      Very helpful, I appreciate it.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 6 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Lovely tips for writing a sympathy note, many thanks

    • victoriuh profile image

      victoriuh 6 years ago

      Great info! My SIL is on the verge of losing her grandmother and I will probably need this info soon.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      it amazes me to read this again, really like how you put this into words.

    • profile image

      seosmm 6 years ago

      Good info. Very nice lens!

    • Northwestphotos profile image

      Northwestphotos 6 years ago

      Helpful information that you don't find too often because people are hesitant to discuss it. Thanks for the lovely and sensitive lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Honestly would have been helpless without this lens. I hope this goes well, the note will definitely help.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      great ideas on what to write and on what type of card, this comes in handy in all of our lives at some time. thank you.

    • iijuan12 profile image

      iijuan12 6 years ago from Florida

      Very helpful lens! Blessed and liked.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Just sent a sympathy note today to friends who lost their beloved golden retriever, and it was signed by Sheba and Molly, also goldens who have gone to doggie heaven (Sheba was mine, Molly was theirs).

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 6 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      So sorry you lost your Mom. I too have lost mine:(

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 6 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      Wonderful job on this lens!

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 6 years ago

      Your personal experiences are helpful, beautifully written.

    • DogWatchColumbus profile image

      DogWatchColumbus 6 years ago

      So heartfelt! Thank you for the valuable tips...

    • CarynJSwift56889 profile image

      CarynJSwift56889 6 years ago

      gentle feeling photos

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      ((((( hugs ))))))

    • DecoratingEvents profile image

      DecoratingEvents 7 years ago

      So nice to have a reference when you're not sure what to say! This April Fool is blessing this wonderful lens.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Adding a kiss for luck on this St. Patrick's Day!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 7 years ago from Scotland

      when I first read this page, the card you use is similar to one I received when my father died, I had to return on this special day St Patricks, as it is 16 years since he was taken from us, but also my now husbands birthday! Lucky Leprechaun Blessing - Happy St Patricks Day

    • Philippians468 profile image

      Philippians468 7 years ago

      thank you for sharing from you heart.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 7 years ago

      Very valuable

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 7 years ago

      Thank you for your thoughtful presentation on this subject. Learning from your personal story really helps. Blessed by your neighborhood Squid Angel.

    • tiff0315 profile image

      tiff0315 7 years ago

      Great lens! Thank you for the information and your personal story

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      You are providing a wonderful service here for times that everyone is at loss of what to say or do. This is a true labor of love, thank you!

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 7 years ago

      Great ideas. I always have trouble writing these types of cards...

    • desilegend profile image

      desilegend 7 years ago

      From my own experience, I know it's very hard to say something in the situations like this... No words seem right!

    • hlkljgk profile image

      hlkljgk 7 years ago from Western Mass

      thank you for the guidance. times like these can be so difficult.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 7 years ago from Templeton, CA

      This is a much needed lens, since so many are tongue-tied when faced with job of writing a sympathy message. After my series of major losses, I agree that receiving such cards is very comforting. All agree that the long printed quotes probably won't be read. It's always the personal note added you look for first. I'm lens rolling this to Greeting Cards for the Chronically or Terminally Ill.

    • ssuthep profile image

      ssuthep 7 years ago

      Wonderful. This lens is a big help for me. Thanks.

    • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

      lemonsqueezy lm 7 years ago

      Honestly, I end up saying nothing because I don't know what to say... which is probably the worst thing I could do. This is a much-needed lens. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Great ideas !!!!

      It is quite difficult at times, I have experienced that putting words to emotions and feelings is not that easy.

    • profile image

      lasvegasbeau 7 years ago

      What a really great lens that is filled with great ideas :)

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 7 years ago from New Zealand

      Wonderful, useful lens. I have favorited it, as when the time comes that I need this information, I might not remember all the useful tips.

    • profile image

      SandraRoseDesigns 7 years ago

      Great lens - Full of good and helpful information on writing sympathy notes. I lensrolled it to my lens Photo Memorials - Loss of Father.

    • encouragingwords profile image

      encouragingwords 8 years ago

      Excellent lens, 5* and lensrolled to Sentiments for Sympathy Cards.

    • LoKackl profile image

      LoKackl 8 years ago

      Very compassionate and personal lens to say how to write a sympathy note. Rolling to free-bereavement-verses and bereaved-children. Squid Angel Blessed.

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 8 years ago from United States

      These cards are quite beautiful and you are absolutely right. There are no words sufficient to ease the pain of someone grieving the death of a loved one. I have so many thoughts on this subject. When my brother died, I did not want cards, phone calls or even visits. I wanted to be left alone. I am only now (after 2 years) able to go back and look at the cards and appreciate the caring and concern expressed. We all handle death in our own way, in our own time. The cards waited for me to be ready for them. Angel Blessed and added to my Squid Angel Mouse Tracks lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Well done. I've always been partial to hearing someone relate their good memories of the one who died. I learned a lot about my mother from those who had known her, and appreciated everything they shared.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      You gave me some good things to think about. It's always a tough thing to handle and your suggestions hit home.



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