What should you write, or not write, in a sympathy card?
Death leaves even the most eloquent people at a loss for words. We may try to extend words of comfort to those we care about, in their times of grief. But we worry that our sympathetic phrasings may fall short – or even cause unintentional hurt.
In person, we might simply sit silently to listen and comfort the bereaved. On paper, however, we may struggle to find the right words.
What should we say, and what should we not say, in sympathy cards and notes to those who are grieving the death of a loved one?
Here are five do’s and five don’ts for writing notes of sympathy and condolence to those who are mourning the passing of someone special.
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5 do’s for sympathy card notes
1. Do keep condolence comments simple in a sympathy card. A concise and caring message is usually enough to convey compassion for those who are grieving.
2. Do mention the deceased person by name in a sympathy card. Many people find it awkward to talk about those who have died, but this is an important part of the grieving process.
3. Do try to include a brief memory or tribute about the one who died. If possible, personalize the condolence card message by mentioning how you knew the deceased and why he or she was special to you.
4. Do offer specific ways you might be available to help the grieving family, if you realistically can be of assistance. Are you willing to provide a meal, babysit, drive out-of-town extended family members to the airport, shovel a snowy driveway or perform another helpful action? If so, go ahead and mention this in a sympathy card. But avoid making an empty blanket statement, inviting no real response, such as, “Please let me know, if there is anything I can do.”
5. Do promise to pray for the bereaved, but only if you honestly are committed to doing so. How often do people promise to pray and then forget to follow through?
Here is an example of a simple sympathy message that employs all five of these do’s:
Please accept my sincere sympathies on the sudden death of your father, Jacob. As a member of his Little League baseball team for many years, I will never forget the way he made sure every player had a chance to take the field in every game, no matter what the score was. I have always loved Jacob’s collie, D’Artagnon, and I would be honored to help walk him on weekend mornings, if that would help. Please know that I will be praying for your family in the coming days. With heartfelt condolences, Arnie.
5 don’ts for sympathy card notes
The worst funereal faux pas often occurs in a sympathy card. Here are five top taboos for condolence notes.
1. Do not send a sympathy card electronically. Emailed greeting cards and Facebook wall posts are fine for many occasions, but not for funerals. Handwritten notes are the best for these sad times, offering a much more personal touch. Ideally, even the envelopes are hand-addressed. Besides, most grieving families find comfort in retaining sympathy cards and notes in scrapbooks or keepsake boxes, so they can review them later.
2. Do not select comical cards for writing sympathy notes. Although this may seem obvious, a surprising number of folks actually attempt humor in condolence cards, perhaps hoping to cheer up the bereaved. Recounting funny memories of the deceased together may be therapeutic, but this tactic is generally inappropriate in writing.
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3. Do not use pat answers or platitudes in a sympathy card note. The purpose of a condolence card is to encourage those who loved the one who has passed away, not to explain why the death may have been a mercy or possibly less painful than the alternative. Although it may be acceptable to mention the long illness or tragic event that caused the person t
4. Do not include personal news or problems in a condolence card. This is not the time to make it all about you. Save your own sad stories, even of those who may have died of similar causes, for another occasion. The best sympathy card notes are aimed wholly at offering caring words for those who are grieving right now.
5. Do not mention any outstanding grievances, differences or debts the deceased may have owed you in a sympathy card note. Amazingly, all too many folks take this brazen tactic, perhaps trying to serve their own agendas and toss in their own proverbial two cents one last time. If the person who passed away actually was indebted to you somehow, you have two choices: forgive the debt or take the matter up with the executor of the deceased’s estate. Neither of these options fits in a sympathy card note.
Essentially, the key to writing condolence card notes is to stick to simple statements of sympathy and constructive comments of compassion.