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Sympathy Card Etiquette

Updated on April 27, 2015

Sincere Condolences

When a loved one passes away, it's a very hard time for everyone who knew them. It's hard to know just how to act and what to say when you are trying to offer your condolences. You may be wondering if there are any rules about sending out a sympathy card.

Image courtesy of Tom Hilton on Creative Commons.

Image by Zoutedrop on Flickr
Image by Zoutedrop on Flickr

Time is of the Essence

The Sooner the Better

First, you should get your card in the mail as soon as you hear the news that someone has passed. If you are away or unable to send a card quickly, it's ok to send it up to two weeks later. Many people stop there, thinking that if they missed the optimal time to send a sympathy card that they should just forget the whole thing. Not so. It's better to send a sympathy card at any time than not to send one at all.

If you find a month, two months or even a few months have gone by and you still have not sent your card or sympathy gift basket because you could not find the words, go ahead and send one now. A friend or loved one will still need comforting even a year after a death, so your card will be welcomed.

Image courtesy of naydeeyah on Flickr
Image courtesy of naydeeyah on Flickr

Sending Flowers - Show Sympathy Ideas

Image by Quaziefoto on Flickr
Image by Quaziefoto on Flickr

Sending Money

Is it a Go or No?

Should you send money in a sympathy card? Many people want to help offset the cost of the funeral or burial expenses or simply offer a little help to the bereaved, but this is not the time to send money. It could be considered disrespectful, as if you are saying the recipient doesn't have enough money. You may have meant it in the kindest way, but it could be taken as an offense. So, to be safe, save your cash and instead bring over food. That's always appropriate.

Bring something that can go in the freezer as the bereaved may not have any appetite and all the food he receives will spoil. Or, you could send flowers. A classic sympathy bouquet arrangement can be made at any florist and sent over to the funeral home. Never bring flowers with you to a funeral or wake. Have them delivered by a professional florist shop.

Image by Pink Sherbet Photography
Image by Pink Sherbet Photography

Addressing the Griever

Sending Your Love

Always address your letter as Mr. or Mrs. Jones. And sign your full name even if the person knows you. Cards may get separated from their envelopes and if you just write Cathy, the recipient may not know which Cathy sent the card.

Image by thebig429
Image by thebig429

Recipient Etiquette

What's Expected?

How about if you're the recipient of sympathy cards or a sympathy cookie bouquet? What's the etiquette you should follow? Even though you are in a bereaved state, you should acknowledge any personal notes that you received. If someone took the time to write a letter, it's proper to acknowledge it. That being said, you may not feel up to writing thank you notes. It's ok to designate someone else who is close to you to write out thank you notes. You should also be sure that everyone who sent flowers receives a written thank you. It is not necessary to write a thank you for a sympathy card.

You're Grieving

People don't expect you to be bubbly, overly talkative or happy. Don't stress yourself over sending out Thank You's or any other things you might feel obligated to do. Take your time and when the time is right, you'll know.

Photo by grisha_21 on Flickr
Photo by grisha_21 on Flickr

Your Loss is Your Time

Don't Make it Harder

If you are on the receiving end of sympathy, remember that people want to comfort you and that they do not expect anything back from you. It may help you work through the grieving process to write a short note to everyone who was especially kind to you during your hard time.

If it has the opposite effect and just wears you out, save the task for a time in the future when you feel more up to it.


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    • writerkath profile image


      5 years ago

      I think a lot of people don't write sympathy notes because they honestly don't know how to begin. This lens will be very helpful to a lot of people. It's a tough thing to do, but it means so much to the family. Thanks for putting this out there.

    • Flowerchild1946 profile image

      Carol Brooks 

      5 years ago from Florida

      My favorite aunt passed away in November. It was so hard to write those sympathy cards to my cousin and my uncle. I tried to let them know how much my aunt had meant to me. Great tips.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Having been recently bereaved I don't agree that its good idea to send sympathy cards months after a death. Quite honestly I was glad when they stopped. If you can't send within the first two weeks, send an ordinary letter.

    • orangerubberduc profile image


      6 years ago

      I wish more people read this when I was going through a miscarriage....

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      It's a tough thing, to write a sympathy card. But these tips are definitely helpful and will come in handy. Thank you!

    • CruiseReady profile image


      6 years ago from East Central Florida

      Sometimes it's difficult to know what to do at a difficult time. Thanks for setting it down in writing

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      7 years ago from United States

      Sympathy cards are hard for me whether I am the sender or the receiver. I do think it is important to let people know you are thinking of them in a difficult time. I couldn't tell you now though who sent me cards when my brother died. It was all just too difficult to handle. However, I do know most people remember and appreciate any act of kindness.

    • squid-janices7 profile image


      7 years ago

      Very useful information .... knowing what to say/write is always difficult when loss is involved.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good wisdom on this situation.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Sometimes people feel like avoiding the person who is grieving, which isn't fair so this is a really useful guide.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Great information on sympathy etiquette.

    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 

      8 years ago from Michigan

      This is a fine lens with lots of useful information on a less-than-happy subject, but one which everyone has to deal with from time to time and about which it is not easy to find good information.

      Thumbs up!


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