The Art of Writing an Appropriate Sympathy Card

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Writing a sympathy card for a loved one or friend’s funeral is never easy.

When someone you know passes away, even if you know it is coming, you and many people around you will be confronted with a swirling mix of complex and intense emotions.  Some people will be stoic.  Others will be inconsolable.

Depending on who the person was and the role they played in your life, you will either find it natural and easy to be supportive to others more in need, or you will struggle with your own feelings as you try to turn your own emotions into those that can provide comfort to others who may need it more.

What is a sympathy card?

Sympathy card is a form of communication such as a note, email, or hand written card sent to provide comfort to a friend, colleague or loved one during a time of despair.

The basics of sympathy card etiquette

Despite the rapidly changing norms of society, one thing that has not changed is the role of a sympathy card as part of the grieving process.  A sympathy card plays a small but important role in helping people heal from their loss.

You may be working through your own intense feelings, and depending on your personality, it may be difficult to express those feelings to others.  But as difficult as it may be, sending an appropriate sympathy card, along with well-chosen words can have a healing effect, not only for the recipient, but for you as well.

If you’re feeling awkward and don’t know what to say, what follows will help you.  However, here’s the single most important thing to remember about sympathy cards…

it is the actual act of sending a sympathy card and demonstrating that you care that will trump most anything you can write as part of a message inside the card.

When in doubt, when you think you can’t find the right words, make the effort anyway.  Along with the guidance you’ll find here, your thoughtfulness will be well received every time.  You do not want to be that person who will be notable by having not sent a card.

Here are some basic guidelines to consider:

  • A sympathy card is not a Facebook post. It is not a text.  It is not an e-card, a voicemail, or a message passed on by a mutual friend or family member.
  • A sympathy card is a well-established, traditional piece of correspondence sent by mail or hand delivered to those who are the closest to the loved one who passed away.
  • A good sympathy card starts with you choosing the right sympathy card. Do not grab the first one you see.  Take time to read several.  There are large sections devoted to sympathy cards at stationery stores, book stores, department stores, grocery stores, online and at other outlets.  The amount of thought you put into a card can have a direct effect on how well it is received.  When in doubt, always err to the side of caution when it comes to pre-printed messages.  The right card is out there and you will find it with a little bit of work on your part. Let your heart and your emotions be your guide.
  • When adding your message to a card, make it personalized, and make it handwritten. It does not matter if you think you have sloppy handwriting.  What matters is the personal touch, and that can’t be conveyed if your note is typed and inserted in the card.  Believe it or not, any flaws or imperfections will actually add to the sweetness of your message.
  • As far as the actual content of the message goes, whatever you write, as long as it is appropriate, will be well received. It does not have to be perfect.  The reality is that the person or family you are sending it to will be in the midst of a grieving process, and unless your words are particularly touching, insightful or personal, they will become a part of a larger healing process and outpouring of sympathy and love.
  • When in doubt, keep it short. The less words you write, the more impact each one will have.  People grieve in different ways.  Some people internalize more than others.  Conversely, in your effort to “let it all out” be careful that this is not the place you do it.  You will have other opportunities later on.  Right now, stay focused on the overall goal, which is to grieve and help your friend or family member start the healing process.

What should a sympathy card say?

Sympathy cards are sent to all kinds of people you have a relationship with and under all kinds of circumstances.  Following area a few suggestions on what to say:

  • Acknowledge the loss and express sympathy. “We were saddened to hear about Bill’s passing.  We know what a terrible loss this must be for you and your family.”
  • Share a memory or mention a special quality that the departed person had. “Bill could always light up a room with his smile and quick wit.”
  • Offer help or assistance if you are in a position to do so and want to extend it. “If there is anything we can do to help you through this difficult time, please let us know.”
  • Close with a sympathetic and sincere phrase. “With deepest condolences on Bill’s passing,”

What occasions do people send sympathy cards?

A sympathy card is most often used for funerals of loved ones or pets.  It’s common to have a loss for words when an occasion surprises you unexpectedly.

Occasions for sympathy cards:

  • Funerals
  • Loss of a pet

How should I word a sympathy card?

What you say in a sympathy card will vary greatly depending on the relationship you had with the person who passed away, and more important, what kind of relationship you have with remaining family members.  Your sympathy card for the passing of an elderly relative who died of natural causes will be quite different than if the child of a close neighbor passes away unexpectedly.

Tailor your message to the situation.  Here are some of the more common situations you will encounter where a sympathy card would be appropriate, along with a few suggestions on what you might say:

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a mother?

  • “The passing of the one who first introduced us to this planet and who loved us along its paths is never easy. Know that you are not alone in this difficult time.”
  • “Your mother was a beautiful woman in many ways. I look back fondly at all the times we shared. She was always such a pleasure to be around.  I will remember her always with love and affection.  I love you and am truly sorry for your loss.”
  • “I am truly sorry for your loss. Your mother was an amazing woman who touched many lives in many ways.  She will be missed by all of us.  My heart goes out to you and your family during this difficult time.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a father?

  • “Your father was a kind and generous man. I have so many memories of him that I will always cherish.  His strength and honesty were admirable throughout his life.  He will be missed.”
  • “Your father provided a quiet and inspirational guiding hand for many years and for many people throughout his life. I am saddened at his passing, but I will continue to draw strength from his life lessons for many years to come.”
  • “Your father was amazing in many ways. He worked hard, led by example and provided a strong and stable home life for many years.  Let your memories provide you with the comfort you need to get you through this difficult time.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a wife?

  • “No words can adequately express what you must be feeling with the passing of the love of your life. I know you will have special memories of (name) that will live inside of you for the rest of your days.  Please accept my profound condolences…”
  • “I was heartbroken to learn of (name) passing. I know she was the light of your life and a kind and gentle soul to all who had the pleasure of knowing her.  My sincere sympathies on your loss.”
  • It is impossible to know the depths of your loss and the profound sadness you are going through with the loss of (name). She was loved by so many people in life, and she will live on in many people’s memories for years to come.  May she rest in peace.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a husband?

  • “I was truly sorry to hear of (name) passing. He was a kind and gentle man who was not only a good husband, but a good friend, a good father and so much more to the many people he touched in his life.  May your cherished memories of him last forever.”
  • (Name) was not only a good husband, he was one of the kindest and closest friends I ever had. He set an example on how to treat others, was one of the finest people I ever had the pleasure of knowing.  I am truly sorry for your loss.”
  • “Few things are more blessed in this life than the close bond between a husband and wife. (Name’s) loss is a time of great sadness for you.  We share your grief and we are ready to support you with love in any way we can.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a child?

  • “I cannot even begin to imagine the profound grief you are going through at this time. (Name) was a beautiful person in many ways. He/she touched so many lives with love during his/her short time in this world.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do to ease your pain.”
  • “No words can fully capture the full sense of grief that you must be feeling at this difficult time. Nothing ever fully prepares us for the loss of one of our children.  Know that you are not alone and that we are all mourning (name) loss.”
  • “A child born into this world is a gift to a mother, a father, and all those who come to know him or her. When that child leaves this earth all too soon, we are left with the deepest of all forms of grief.  We are completely heartbroken over (name) passing.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a baby?

  • “We share your profound pain over the passing of baby (name). His/her life was all too brief, yet he/she touched so many of us.  Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help you through this difficult time.”
  • “It is especially heartbreaking when the smallest of God’s creatures leaves this earth before their time. Please accept our deepest condolences.”
  • “Although (name) was only with us for the briefest of times, his/her memories will last a lifetime in our hearts. With profound sympathy.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a sister?

  • “My sister was a beautiful soul who touched many lives and who took no greater joy than taking care of her husband and her children. I’m at a complete loss for words and join you in profound grief as we mourn her loss together.”
  • “(Name) was not only my sister, she was a loving inspiration to everyone who met her. I am just as sad as you are at her passing.  I’ll miss her forever…”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a brother?

  • “(Name) was a brother who I could always look up to, in good times and in bad. He loved his family, was proud of his children, and was one of the finest husbands I’ve ever seen.  I’m crushed at his loss.  We’ll find a way to get through this together.”
  • “There’s always one brother who is so full of life that it infects everyone he meets in the best of ways. (Name) was that brother and his passing leaves a huge void not only in my life, but in the lives of his wife and children. I’ll miss him every single day for the rest of my life.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a coworker?

  • “It was truly an honor and a pleasure to work with (name) each day. He added so much to our lives with his upbeat outlook on life and the warmth he brought to our office.”
  • “(Name) was a valued member of our work family and we are saddened by his passing. Please accept our profound condolences during your time of loss.”
  • “(Name) added so much to our company with his quick wit, constant smile, and love of his job. We join you in sorrow as you work through this difficult time.”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a boss?

  • “(Name) was more than just a boss, he taught us many things and managed us with a fair and steady hand. We will miss his leadership and his friendship.  With sympathy…”
  • “Please accept our sincere condolences on (name) passing. He was an important part of our work lives and was a strong and guiding positive influence on everyone who worked for him.”

How to write a sympathy card to a friend?

  • “(Name) was one of my best friends and we shared so many good times together. He/she was like a brother/sister to me in many ways and, like you, I am heartbroken over his/her passing.”
  • “(Name) was a special person in my life. We celebrated a friendship on many levels and he was a trusted person in my life until the very end.  I am so sorry for your loss.  We will all miss him.”

What to write in a sympathy card for terminal cancer?

  • “Please accept my humble condolences on the loss of (name). I hope you can take comfort that after his/her long illness he/she is finally at peace and no longer suffering.  He/she was a beautiful person in life and I will carry his/her memory with me always.”
  • “I was so sorry to hear that (name) had passed after a tough battle with (condition). I share your grief and hope that your many fond memories will sustain you during this time of pain and loss.”

The loss of a member of the military

  • “We were truly saddened to hear about (name) passing in the service of his country. I know you are in pain, but hope that you take heart in knowing that he gave his life for a cause that he believed in.  We join many others in saying thank you as we pray for him and your family.”
  • “Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this time of loss. (Name) gave his life with honor to protect the lives of others and while his passing is tragic, take solace in knowing that his cause was just and his actions were noble.  God bless…”

What to write in a sympathy card for the loss of a pet?

  • “I was sorry to hear that (name) had passed away. I know (name) was an important part of your family for many years, and that he/she brought so much joy to your lives.  One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is the love and affection of a furry friend.  My condolences on your loss.”
  • “I know that (name) was more than just the family (dog/cat). He/she was a beloved member of your family for so many years and I know you are saddened by his/her passing.  I hope you celebrate the fond memories and how much he/she added to all your lives as you mourn his/her passing.”
  • “I know how close you were to (name) and so I was sorry to hear that he/she passed on after many beautiful years of companionship with you and your family. Please accept my condolences on the loss of such an important member of your family.”

When the card will be delivered with flowers at a funeral

  • “Our loving thoughts embrace you during this time of profound loss…”
  • “May these flowers serve as the words we are not fully able to speak over your loss…”
  • “With love and sympathy…”
  • “Our hearts are filled with sorrow over your loss…”

When Bible verses may be appropriate

 In many cases, people find comfort through passages found in the Bible.  If you know the family were actively involved in practicing their faith, or if you are actively involved in the church, then you might want to include one of the following verses in your sympathy card:

  • “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Proverbs 10:7
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
  • “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:2
  • “From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Psalm 61:2
  • “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Psalm 94:19
  • “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you.” Isaiah 43:2
  • “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear.” Psalm 10:17
  • “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
  • “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25, 26
  • “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9
  • “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
  • “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
  • “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
  • “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2
  • “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
  • “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Proverbs 3:5-6
  • “Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Corinthians 1:3–4

How should I sign a sympathy card?

Now more than ever, the phrase “with love” is exactly what mourners will want and need to hear.  If this phrase is not appropriate for your situation (perhaps when a coworker dies), then any of these, or versions of these, are suitable alternative closings.

Can I sign a sympathy card “with love”?

Absolutely.  It’s common to use with love as the signature for a sympathy card, but you can also choose any of the following ways to sign a sympathy card:

  • With sympathy
  • With sincere sympathy
  • With prayers and sympathy
  • May God bless and comfort you
  • God bless
  • With sincere condolences
  • Keeping you in my prayers
  • Please accept my sincere condolences
  • Sharing your sadness during this difficult time
  • With loving thoughts and prayers
  • Praying for you and your family
  • My thoughts and prayers are with you
  • With caring thoughts

When should I send a sympathy card after a death?

There is no hard and fast rule for when you should send a sympathy card.  Generally, within a week after the person passes is most appropriate.  However, if the person was a more distant relation, you may not be immediately aware that they passed away.  In cases such as those, send a sympathy card as soon as you become aware of the passing.

Healing takes a long time, and when you reach out, whether it is two days after the fact or two months after the fact, your thoughtfulness will always be appreciated.

What is the etiquette for a thank you note to a sympathy card I received?

After a loved one passes away you will be overwhelmed by so many life changes. Replying to a sympathy card, while important, will not be your biggest priority.

You will want to take some time to grieve and collect yourself as you move to a new phase of your life.  You may not also feel like responding to well-wishers immediately either.  All of that will be understandable.

In some cases, you may never feel like responding.  That’s okay too.  Take your time to mourn.  You’ll know when the time is right to get back to people who have supported you.

What do I say in a thank you note to a sympathy card?

Much like the sympathy card itself, the simple act of sending a thank-you note will carry great impact on those who receive them.  Be sure to thank people for their support and let them know how you are getting along.  It’s okay to be honest and let people know you are hurting.  If you are up to it, you can use the card as a chance to stay connected, perhaps mentioning that you would like to see that person in the near future.

Other ways to express sympathy

If you want to go beyond a sympathy card, there are some things you can do to further pay tribute to the departed person.  You might consider one or more of the following:

  • Send flowers. Common and obvious, but always appreciated.
  • Plant a memorial tree or garden. Living memorials can be small and simple or larger and more elaborate, based on what you want to do, how much you want to spend, and how much space is available.
  • Donate to the deceased person’s favorite charity.
  • Donate to the deceased person’s place of worship.
  • Donate to the organization that is most active in the fight against what they passed away from (i.e. The Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the American Heart Association, The American Cancer Society, et al)

What not to write in a sympathy card

Although sending a sympathy card is the most important part of the process, you can undo a good portion of that goodwill if you say the wrong things in your message.  Here are some things you will want to avoid:

  • Even if a person passes from a terminal condition, stay far away from the phrase “it’s for the best”. Although you may feel that way, the deceased loved ones may not, especially not initially.
  • Also stay away from “I/we know how you feel”. You may think you do, but because everyone processes grief differently, chances are you do not know how they feel, and saying so could only anger or annoy them.
  • Do not use “they lived a full life” because if they did, their family will have wanted them to live even more of one.
  • Stay away from comparing a loss of your loved one to their loss. It could be construed that you are focusing on yourself and not them at a time when they need support the most.
  • Stay away from specific details. If a person died in an accident, at best be vague using the words “unexpectedly” or “sudden”.  The less focus placed on details, the better early on.
  • Don’t assign blame by saying “this happened for a reason”. That will most assuredly add to the amount of upset.
  • Also avoid the painful reminder of a person’s untimely death by using the phrase “he/she was so young”.

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