Expressing Sympathy, How to Write a Sympathy Note

Expressing Sympathy, How to write a sympathy note

When a family suffers a profound loss, such as when a loved one dies, it can be difficult for the friends and extended family to know what to say. Many people have a hard time coping with loss as it is, and when they feel compelled to express their sympathy, they feel inadequate, as if there are no words that can be spoken to properly convey their sorrow. When words fail, writing a sympathy note is a powerful and intimate way to relay feelings of empathy and compassion.

Even if you are an eloquent speaker and have no issues with expressing yourself verbally, writing a sympathy card carries with it a benefit that verbal expression does not. That is, in particularly difficult moments, the recipient will have an opportunity to go back to the card time and again. Sympathy cards offer ongoing support to the family of the decedent for times when you can’t be there in person. Here are a few tips on how to write an expressive, thoughtful sympathy card.


Acknowledge the Person Who Died in your Sympathy Note

In the first sentence of the card, you want to make sure to mention the name of the person who passed away. The purpose of the card will be obvious to the recipient, but when you mention the decedent’s name immediately the card automatically becomes intimate and personal.

The beginning of the card is also where you identify how you learned of the person’s passing. For example, you would write “Your cousin, Mark, told me about Joan’s passing, and I am writing to express my condolences for your loss.” It doesn’t require much detail at all, and the family will appreciate the intimate and personal tone of the card when you mention the name of their loved one, and identify your personal connection to the family.


Express Yourself While Expressing Sympathy

It may seem like your grief, when measured against the family’s, is nominal, at best. However, since people often hold onto sympathy cards and reread them as they progress through the grieving process, by writing to them about your own personal sorrow, they may find inspiration in knowing they aren’t alone in their suffering.

Talk About the Decedent

If you knew the person who passed away, chances are you have a story or two worth sharing. Consider which would be the most lighthearted story, and which would paint the decedent in a positive light. Then share it in the sympathy card.  Be sure to include additional positive attributes you remember about the person who died. Was he or she funny, generous, nurturing? Include it in the card. The family will enjoy reading how much their loved one meant to others.

Lend a Hand

If you are in a position where you would be able to help the family while they grieve, then offer assistance in the sympathy card.  Include your contact information, of course, but be sure not to extend yourself beyond what you’re able to do for them. Examples of help could include babysitting, yard work, driving them to appointments, or providing meals. People who are grieving need time to do just that, and when you offer help and follow through with it, that gives them the time they need to work through their grief without the burden of life’s daily activities.


One of the key benefits of writing a sympathy card is that you can plan it out, write rough drafts, and get it just right. While no words could ever fully express the depth of loss we feel when a loved one dies, by properly writing a sympathy card, you can take your time, express exactly how you feel, and provide the family with a measure of support that they can return to time and time again.


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Photo by: tnarik