If you know someone who has recently lost a loved one, you may feel compelled to write a long letter expressing your sympathy. After all, the loss of a loved one merits much more than a line or two of prose. Right? Well, yes and no. Certainly such a devastating loss deserves more acknowledgement than can be communicated in a hastily written afterthought, but a writing a good sympathy note is all you really need to properly and respectfully express your condolences.
A good sympathy note will serve two primary purposes. It will serve as a written tribute to the decedent, and it will be a source of support for the survivor. In order to accomplish both, it’s best to take your time and not simply jot something down from the top of your head. Plan to write out your thoughts a few times before committing them to the card or stationary you intend to use.
Here are a few additional tips that you can use to help you draft a meaningful sympathy note that will serve to honor the person who was lost and comfort the person who is grieving.
A Good Sympathy Note Will Acknowledge the Loss
When you begin the sympathy note, open it with a simple statement such as “I heard of Steven’s passing, and was so saddened by the news.” If you heard of the death through a channel other than the person to whom you are addressing the sympathy note, this is where you can let them know how you came to find out. For example, “Your sister Janice told me that your husband died, and I am writing to express my condolences.”
This is also the place where you mention the decedent by name. By including his or her name, and opening the note with the acknowledgement of the loss, you set a personal tone, and you give a clear indication of the note’s intent.
When you express your feelings of sadness and loss, you are showing the bereaved that you share in their grief. That support, however insignificant you may feel it is, can be powerful for the recipient to read. Many people reread sympathy letters over and over, and return to them for comfort as they move through the grieving process.
Note: A sympathy note is not a place to include unnecessarily dramatic prose. Keep the language simple, honest and meaningful.
List Special Qualities
As you compose the sympathy note, jot down a few positive characteristics and attributes of the deceased. You could mention their generous nature, love of horses, sharp sense of humor, or passion for helping others. Sort through them, and select those you feel best sum up the person who has died. By doing this, you let the person who is reading the note know that the decedent was loved by others, and that they brought value to the world.
Don’t forget to include special qualities of the bereaved. He will need to be reminded of his strengths because when we suffer a profound loss, such as when someone we love dies, we can become instantly vulnerable and unable to complete even the most basic tasks. Emphasize his qualities of perseverance, optimism, patience, and devotion to faith.
Include in your sympathy note an offer to help in any way you can, but it’s important that you are sincere. Most of us are incredibly busy, so it’s not practical to offer to help any time and any way we can. Offer to help with specific tasks, such as taking him grocery shopping, watching the kids, cooking a meal, or walking the dog. You may never be called on to help, but if you are, you’ll know that it will be for something you’re able to do. It also provides a sense of relief to those grieving when they know they have others they can rely on when they need help.
When you end the sympathy note, do it in a fairly straightforward way. By using “sincerely”, “yours truly”, or something similar, you are ending the note in the same way you started it – with sympathy and kindness.