A letter of sympathy shows and conveys one's feelings and emotions for other's loss. This loss could be of any kind, it could be a death, or any misfortune.
After my book The Tiffany Box, a memoir was released, I received many emails from readers expressing how grateful they were that I included several condolence letters that were sent to me after my mom passed away in my book. Each reader liked seeing examples of sympathy cards.
Who knows what to say when someone dies? Often, not knowing what to say, we put off writing the note and eventually don't say anything. The intention to write is there, but what to say isn't easy or obvious.
I decided to write a blog post on writing a condolence letter. This is a list of suggestions. I know each loss is specific and personal in tiny ways and big ways, and that it is impossible to capture the specificity of loss in a template condolence letter. I also know that it is far better for friends to say something to someone who is grieving than to not say anything.
Silence from friends can hurt too. Reaching out by writing a condolence letter is important to do, even if it feels awkward, even if you don't know what to say.
I want to share with you that for me, it always feels awkward and hard to reach out to someone who has lost a beloved. The unthinkable has happened. Even if someone knew a beloved was dying soon, loss is profound. No one can know what pain someone else is in. But we all know enough about pain to want to stay away. This response is the opposite of what most people need. Reaching out through a note or a letter is a way of saying, I witness your loss and I see you. Often, when someone is in a dark hole, being seen is enough. An act of kindness is enough. A few sentences are enough. I'm thinking of how gentle rain can feel kind on hot skin.
1. Because of this, the first thing I say to myself when I sit down to write a condolence letter is that it's important that I get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Sometimes I get up and get a piece of chocolate and make tea, but then I remember that it's hard and important to do and so I take a breath and I begin. I date the letter. I start with "Dear" and then I write.
2. I try not to say that I am sorry someone has died. Instead, I say that I am sorry for the person's loss.
I want you to know that I am sorry for your loss.
I may even say something like -- This is a hard note to write, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you even though I don't know what to say.
3. Then I bring to mind the person who has passed and remember them in a joyful way. What was something I saw them doing that made me smile? What was something I saw them doing that made them smile? I begin a sentence with the phrase,
I will always remember...
Here's a list of ideas and memory prompts:
*Retell how they made us smile.
*Retell a story of what they did that they loved.
*Remember quirky details that made them uniquely them -- that one paper snowflake that no one else can replicate. This is exactly what makes the loss so hard and yet it is also what makes the loss poignant, specific, real, and irreplaceable.
That's the word I'm looking for, irreplaceable. What about that person was irreplaceable? This is the diamond at the center of grief, why it hurts so much and why we are richer for having been touched by that person.
If I don't know the person who passed, I may something like:
I will always remember your stories about ______ with ______. "
If I don't know stories, I will say, "I will always remember how much you loved ____."
Remembering someone who has passed doing something they love is my way of cheating death. In my heart of hearts, I try very hard to put aside as well as I can how someone died. I think we as a culture and people focus a lot of energy on illness or disaster. We retell and retell and retell how someone died. I am tired of that. I believe it is far more important to retell and retell and retell how someone lived.
4. I always end a condolence letter by telling the person that:
My thoughts and prayers are with you and I wish you peace.
5.The last thing I do is write the address on an envelope, pick out a pretty stamp and mail the condolence letter. I acknowledge to myself that there is absolutely nothing I can say that takes pain away, but that small acts of kindness are eventually how we make our way out of the dark hole into daylight -- hopefully carrying a diamond.
I hope these ideas help you write a sympathy letter. I like to focus on the joyful spirit of the person who passed and on offering kindness and love to the one who is grieving. The heaviness of grief is softened by small acts of kindness.
Be sure to comment on any phrases you have found helpful that I might have missed, and please share this article with your friends. Thank you.
Kathleen Buckstaff's memoir The Tiffany Box is full of love, humor, heartache, and insight. A gathering of e-mails, letters, diary entries, newspaper columns, and holiday bulletins to family and friends, comprise Kathleen Buckstaff's candid, funny, and recognizably true chronicle of a generation "in-between": nurturing its young while nursing its aged, and coming to terms with the bitter realities that temper life's sweet rewards.http://www.amazon.com/The-Tiffany-Box-A-Memoir/dp/0988764202
Start by selecting and personalizing one of our sample condolence notes, sympathy -Helen Keller; “Grant but memory to us, and we lose nothing by death.
I just read in the paper that Jane passed away. I feel a real loss in her passing and want to extend my sympathy to you and your family. I will always remember Jane as an honest and cheerful woman who loved to work with young people. Our family is privileged to have known her. In the months to come, please know that our family loves and cares about you. We will be in touch.
I was deeply saddened to hear of John's passing. John was a fine man and a significant influence for good in others' lives. I will miss him a great deal. Please remember that I am here to help however I can. Don't hesitate to call if you need help with funeral or estate matters or if you simply need a listening ear.
Please accept my sincerest condolences at the death of your dear daughter. She and I spent our freshman year in college as roommates and have since shared a wonderful relationship by telephone and mail over the years. She was an important part of my life, and I feel her loss deeply.
Enclosed are a few choice letters that she wrote to me concerning her feelings and thoughts about you. I thought you might want to know how lovingly she spoke of you as not only her kind and loving parents, but also as her friends.
I was shocked and saddened to here of John's death. I will miss his warmth and humor. His visits to my home and office were always a treat. It is difficult to know what to do in times like these. I want you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. Please let me help you handle some of the many things that you certainly have to do. I am a phone call away. My time is yours.
Since I learned of your mother's passing, I find myself thinking of you and your family and how much we will all miss her. I am comforted because I am one of the lucky ones whose life was touched by this very special woman. I join you and the many others who will miss her, but I remain grateful still for having known her.
Tips on writing a sympathy letter to a friend in the wake of loss and bereavement.
Words of heart-felt sympathy on a card – sincere message of condolence on an email – a simple text expressing sorrow at your friend’s loss – simple but difficult because writing a letter of sympathy is never easy.
In my job as Funeral Director, I hear back regularly from people – maybe a few days after the funeral if they call in to collect mass cards, or perhaps come in to the office or come to collect their beloved ashes after a cremation. And often the bereaved person will say how they’re still getting messages of sympathy – cards, letters, text or emails and how that literally keeps them going.
But quite recently, in the wake of a very tragic and untimely death among my personal friends – the wind was taken out of my sails and I found it almost impossible to put pen to paper.
James was the wonderful young adult son of a close friend of mine – and his death from a short, savage and aggressive cancer left all our circle reeling. Attending the funeral did not feel difficult – I was drawn to be there – that need we feel to show up, show support, pay my respects at such a difficult time of loss, especially for my friend Anne – James was her first-born son.
I knew my friend would welcome words connected to her son. And eventually I faced into that letter, because I knew I would deeply regret it if I didn’t. But because I found the letter of condolence so difficult, I thought I’d pass on some tips that helped me greatly.
You’re not a bad friend just because you find this hard – most people are the same – writing a heart-felt letter of sympathy takes courage. I kept beating myself up, and that delayed me even more. Making a start was the worst part. Once I got into it, the words got easier. Part of my reluctance was that writing meant sitting still, reflecting on James’s death, a part of me avoiding the sheer sadness of that. Avoiding the letter meant avoiding that cold hard fact. But in the end, I was all the better for doing it, confronting the loss in a small way.
Letters of Sympathy are not about perfection. Start with a direct expression of sympathy for their loss and bereavement:
A few more examples:
All of the above is perfectly acceptable – it’s a bit like at a funeral – we rush to comfort our friend – and that lovely quaint repetitive phrase particular to Ireland – you hear it in the Funeral Home at the Wake, you hear it in the Church after the Removal service, you sometimes hear it said across the coffin itself:
– the repetition in itself so comforting.
It’s ok if it feels awkward and strange – because of course it’s strange – we are in the presence of raw wounded loss and grief. But we reach out, we embrace our friends, shake hands with others, and messy as it is, we trust this might bring some small solace.
And a kind letter or email does the same – and more! Because words on a page – or a text or an email – written words have the power of endurance.
If you knew the deceased person, do include a memory about them because that will feel like a precious gift to your friend – it might even be an anecdote that they hadn’t heard about their beloved departed – and that will light their moments in dark times. James was a teacher. And when I was offered a place on an MA course, I was on the point of turning it down because my own mother had broken her hip. James talked me through all my doubts and fears and he basically did not stop until Day One of my new course. I knew this would mean a lot to my dear friend Anne.
If it feels right for you, a lovely shop card with your letter tucked inside is always welcome.
Keep your tone gentle – avoid words too stark or painful – like suicide or violence or murder or dreadful painful death – think of softer ways – for example, write about how you hope the dearly departed is at peace after struggle, remind your friend to be gentle with themselves as you can only imagine how this loss must cut into the heart of your friend.
Be mindful of how sensitive your friend will be. If someone has died violently, you’re not glossing over that, but in this first correspondence you are probably seeking to bring comfort.
And let your truth write the words – when my beloved father died – I got a wonderful letter that simply began ‘my heart is breaking for you’.
You can either just let it be known you will give of your time – you can be vague, thus bearing in mind your friend’s privacy – or – it’s perfectly ok to make a suggestion but do say you respect their need for space or solitude also – I told Anne I was available if and when she needed me – ‘coffee, food, a rant, a cry, or just a chat on a park bench!’.
Sometimes I send emails and texts of sympathy – if people are a bit sniffy about this – ignore them. Because any kind of reaching out in words will comfort your dear friend in bereavement.
With my letter to Anne, I was inspired by a woman who came in here to Jennings Funeral Home and showed me a letter of sympathy on the death of her husband. This lady was very tech-savvy – but what she said struck a chord:
‘I’ve had lots of emails, but this letter is precious because I can take it out of my bag even on the bus and I can read the lovely words about my departed beloved.’
Put yourself in the your bereaved friend’s place: when I didn’t want to write a letter, I forced myself to imagine how Anne might feel – I remembered an old hurt – walking down town after my beloved father’s death – very raw and vulnerable – this was only days after Dad’s funeral. I lit up inside when I saw a friend approach – but the second Liz saw me she quickly crossed to street. I know some people freeze up around death, and I get that. But it was deeply hurtful at a dark time.
Short letter or long – it all depends. At the core level, you probably just need to reach across and bring solace. Let someone know you’re there for him or her if they need you. Once you begin your letter, you’ll know – and you’ll write what you sense your friend will welcome.
But do bear in mind that after a funeral, the concentration powers of a person in the throes of grief might be temporarily diminished. So, a 10 page letter might be way too much! Two or three pages will probably prove deeply comforting.
If you didn’t know the person who has died, then you can focus on the qualities in your friend: It was very clear how your love and care for your mother made a huge difference to her quality of life in her days of illness.
Writing to my friend Anne forced me to slow down, reflect on a sad aspect of life I’d rather not reflect upon. But I was all the better for doing it.
Letters of condolences can feel harder than attending the Funeral itself. Because the Removal or the Funeral involves movement and activity. In my recent experience, James’s removal and funeral itself was a busy time. His funeral was being arranged by Undertakers in Limerick – I’m not familiar with the area – so logistically – I had a lot to do. And in one sense, that keeps the sadness at bay for a bit!
I see it here in my job at Jennings Funeral Directors all the time. I had an elderly man called Joseph in here to the Amiens Street branch today – and he knows this area well. But his friend who has passed away is reposing in Jennings of Oscar Traynor Road because of the large attendance – it’s very spacious with a big car park – that family are having prayers, poetry and a eulogy at the Funeral Home before going to the Church. It was clear to me that Joseph was upset – Paul was a childhood friend and they’d gone to school together in East Wall. But it was also clear that what kept Joseph going was coming in to us, ordering a funeral wreath, checking the exact location of Jennnings in Coolock.
And that reminded me how driving to a sad funeral, down the M50 on a busy day was easier than sitting in my quiet room wondering would I write a letter of sympathy. And in the end, to be honest, I got as much comfort from the writing of the letter as I hope Anne got in the reading of it.
triochitarristicodiroma.com (×) Sympathy Letter, Condolence Sympathy Letter Death - Writing a condolence letter to you feels so strange. I am.
Sample letter of sympathy...
It's an easy thing to write a letter of congratulations for a happy event, like a wedding, graduation or birthday. But writing a sympathy letter or note of condolence is totally different!
You probably feel uncomfortable and awkward when faced with a bereaved friend or acquaintance, and just don't know what to say in a letter. So you might just keep putting it off until the proper time to write has elapsed.
Although you might feel relief at not having to deal with the situation, your friend will know that you didn't acknowledge their great loss. They may feel hurt or abandoned, just because you were afraid of saying the wrong thing.
The mere act of writing a sympathy letter, even if it isn't perfect, shows that you care, and can provide more comfort than you realize. The one thing newly bereaved people need more than anything else is the support and understanding of other people. And they can also be disheartened and depressed if they feel abandoned by friends and acquaintances.
Actually, writing a letter or note of condolence should be easy if you just speak from your heart and avoid the dreaded "sympathy platitudes". Just write out your genuine thoughts and feelings. You might be able to express what you want in in a few sentences, or it might be appropriate for you to write an entire page in order to lend proper support.
*Don't miss the section below, "Personalized Sympathy Cards" for an elegant and classy way to bring it all together, painlessly (and cheaply).
Sample letter of sympathy...
Try to keep it fairly short. Bereaved people are often too distraught to deal with a long narrative.
Try some of the following sentences to see if they "fit":
Then add a few sentences about times you spent with the deceased, or how you treasured your relationship with them.
You might tell a short story of something that happened or an occasion you shared together that reveals something new about them their loved one might not even know. Exposing some new talent or a thoughtful gesture the deceased made will become a treasured memory for them. It will help promote the healing process.
How to end your letter:
Sample letter of sympathy...
Here is an example of an effective and comforting sympathy letter:
With Sympathy Personalized Greeting Card
Now here's a great idea... Instead of hand-writing your letter on stationary (if you even have any), why not compose your sympathy message first on scrap paper, then have it printed within an elegant personalized sympathy card?
These are sophisticated, yet intimate... and under $5! There are several choices of graphic designs you can choose from, but we especially liked this one.
You can also change the message across the front of the card for a very personal touch. Then write your own 10 line personal message inside the card! You have a choice of 6 ink colors and 8 font options for a style all your own.
The sympathy card measures 5" x 7" folded and includes a nice white, pearlescent envelope.
If you click the link or photo above, you can read all about it. You can actually enter your text and personalization choices and immediately preview your card, so you know exactly how it will look!
As hard as you might find it to write a letter of condolence, please do so. Just give it your best effort. Use our sample letter of sympathy to get you started.
Your friend will appreciate the show of support, even if you didn't use "just the right words". When it comes to expressing sympathy, it truly is "the thought that counts".
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In this guide we explain how to express sincere condolences using a sample letter of sympathy. The loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult and.