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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 3 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 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 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 4 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 4 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 4 years ago

      Beautiful sympathy cards!

    • profile image

      LadyDuck 4 years ago

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

    • profile image

      TheJewelryStore 4 years ago

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

    • jonathanwm profile image

      jonathanwm 4 years ago

      Nice len & highly informative

    • profile image

      xtianfriborg13 4 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 4 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 4 years ago

      Such a good skill to have.

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 4 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 4 years ago

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

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 4 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 4 years ago

      Sympathy Notes have more variety of styles now than before.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      interesting tips very informative

    • hntrssthmpsn profile image

      hntrssthmpsn 4 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 4 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.

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