When Words Matter Most: How to Write A Sympathy Card
One of the most difficult cards to write is a sympathy card. Even the most experienced writer struggles with what to say — sharing words of comfort to a loved one or acquaintance is tricky to navigate. But pairing heartfelt emotions with the sheer reality of death leaves us, well, without adequate words.
It may ease the process a bit to remember that the most important expression you’ll make isn’t found in your words – it’s your acknowledgement of the loss. Simply reaching out with a card is most meaningful to anyone who’s experienced a loss.
We’ve compiled a few helpful tips to assist you with your sympathy note:
Speak from the Heart
Be brief, but sincere. This isn’t the time to regale fun past memories or invoke your commitment of a 10-point plan to cure disease. Offer words that express your sadness for their loss, and then sign your card with a sentiment that best represents your relationship with them. An example:
We’re heartbroken to learn of Amy’s recent passing.
Please let us know how we can best support you as you grieve her passing. We’ll call you next week.
In friendship and sympathy,
Anne & Frank
What Not To Say
Avoid lengthy emotional tributes, questions about the death, or empty platitudes. If you don’t intend to call or follow-up with the recipient, don’t say that in your card. Further, don’t share your own stories about death or grieving. This loss is personal for them, not you.
What To Say To Parents Who’ve Lost a Child
Recently a close friend lost her infant son. Although he had medical issues, the passing was completely unexpected. We were all stunned upon learning and didn’t know exactly how to address infant death. She shared the following to some of her closest friends:
“Absolutely no words are comforting. In fact, some words can even be hurtful (although unintentional). What may sound comforting to our ears may sound completely different to those experiencing grief.”
When writing your sentiments of encouragement to someone who’s grieving a child’s passing, remember that their grieving process will, most likely, be complicated by comforting other siblings and handling immediate parental issues that require their attention.
Express your sadness in a note, and then send an email to offer a meal, a coffee chat, or childcare if there is a need. An example:
We cannot begin to understand your pain…there are no words.
With heartfelt sorrow,
For more tips and ideas on what to say, we recommend the card writing tips booklet, Words from the Heart.