Did I just say simple? Finding the right words to say isn’t always a simple a task, but it’s one that’s worth your time and energy. Anyone can pick up a mass-produced condolence card from their local card shop or drug store. That's a nice gesture but writing words of sympathy from your heart that are specific to the grieving person will be more treasured. These personal and heartfelt words of condolence serve as a tribute to the deceased and words of comfort to the bereaved.
Guidelines for Writing a Letter
A letter of sympathy, or condolence, should be written and sent promptly. A good guideline is within the first two weeks following the loss. If possible, hand write the letter on stationery rather than typing and printing from a computer. If you want to use a store-bought card, write a personal note on stationery and tuck it inside the card.
Write the letter in your own voice, meaning the way you would normally speak to the person. There is no reason to get too fancy and try to come up with a poem or verse unless that is how you normally speak or you’re a writer by profession.
Components of a Condolence Letter
There are seven main components you may want to include in your letter:
- Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name.
- Express your sympathy.
- Note any special qualities of the deceased that come to mind.
- Include your favorite memory of the deceased.
- Remind the bereaved of their personal strengths or special qualities.
- Offer help, but make sure it is a specific offer. Instead of “Let me know if I can help with anything at all,” try something like “I know that Phil took you to church every Sunday. I'd be glad to do that for you. Shall I pick you up on Sunday at 8:30 a.m.?” (Need ideas? Here are some more ways to help a grieving friend.)
- End the letter with a thoughtful word, a hope, a wish, or expression of sympathy e.g. "You are in my thoughts" or “Wishing you God’s peace.” Closings such as "Sincerely," "Love," or "Fondly," aren’t quite as personal.
Example Condolence Letter
Below is an example of a condolence letter using the seven components above:
1. Acknowledge the loss, refer to deceased by name.
I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of _____________.
2. Express your sympathy.
I know how difficult this must be for you. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
3. Note special qualities of the deceased.
____________ was such a kind, gentle soul. She would do anything to help someone in need.
4. Include your favorite memory.
I remember one time _________________.
5. Remind the bereaved of their personal strengths and qualities.
I know how much you will miss _______________. I encourage you to draw on your strength and the strength of your family. Perhaps you could use your special talent of scrapbooking to make a lasting memory book of _________________.
6. Offer specific help.
If you would like, I can come over on Tuesday evenings to help you make your scrapbook. I have some lovely pictures of _______________ I’d love to share.
7. End the letter with a thoughtful closing.
May God bless you and your family during this time and always,
Sign your name _____________________
Keep in mind that this is only an example. Write from your heart and whatever elements you include will be the right ones.
The next page includes information on writing a shorter version of the condolence letter: the condolence note.