How to Write a Condolence Letter or Sympathy Note

7 steps to help you find the right words of sympathy

Man writing condolence letter
Writing a sympathy note or condolence letter can prove challenging, but it's worth the effort.

A condolence letter or note expressing your sympathy can provide a great source of comfort to someone grieving the loss of a loved one. It's a simple gesture that lets them know that they're in your thoughts. Finding the right words to say when someone's morning a death can be difficult, but a few tips will help you get started.

Reasons to Write a Condolence Letter

It's easy to pick up a mass-produced sympathy card from your local card shop, but writing to offer your personal, heartfelt words of condolence provides a more effective tribute to the deceased.

It also conveys that he or she, as well as the person mourning, are important to you.

The effect on the survivor and the fact that you took the time to handwrite a letter or note will offer greater comfort than any generic sentiment you might find on a greeting card. In addition, writing a personal letter allows you to share a special memory you might have involving the deceased. You can also take this time to offer to talk or help the recipient in the weeks and months ahead.

Guidelines for Writing a Sympathy Letter

First of all, try to write and send or deliver your sympathy letter or note promptly. It's best to do so within the first two weeks following the loss.

Funeral or burial services typically occur within this timeframe. If you will be attending, it's perfectly acceptable to place your condolence letter in the basket or collection box for sympathy cards if you don't wish to mail it.

These are typically provided at the services. Besides, because there are many tasks involved immediately after a death, the recipient might not open the mail promptly anyway.

Next, if possible, you should handwrite your condolence letter or note on stationery or nice paper rather than typing it from a computer.

Personally written notes are increasingly rare in today's world of emails and texts, so a handwritten note will carry greater meaning at this difficult time. If you want to use a store-bought card, tuck your letter inside the card, or write it on the card itself if space allows.

Finally, try to write your sympathy letter in your own voice, just as you would normally speak to the person. Don't feel that you need to get too fancy or try to come up with a poem or verse on your own.

Simply think of the one thing you'd like to say most to the recipient that expresses how you feel. It may be about the loss or how much you care about the surviving person. If you're having difficulty, reading a few quotations about grief, loss, or mourning might inspire you and help you find your own words.

7 Components of a Condolence Letter

The difference between a condolence letter and a sympathy note is purely the length of each. A note might be a few sentences while letters may be a few paragraphs. It's entirely your choice which you choose to write and depends upon how much you wish to express. It's also very common to start writing a note and soon find you've written several paragraphs.

Regardless of your choice, condolence letters or notes generally use some or all of the following seven components.

  1. Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name. Don't try to dance around or avoid the fact that somebody has died—the recipient knows. Moreover, there are many reasons why you should use the name of the deceased that will help the bereaved during this difficult time. Also, try not to use a euphemism for death because, again, you won't fool anyone.
  2. Express your sympathy.
  3. Note one or more of the deceased's special qualities that come to mind.
  4. Include your favorite memory of the deceased.
  5. Remind the bereaved of his or her personal strengths and/or special qualities.
  6. Offer to help the survivor in a specific way: "Let me know if I can help" is one of the several things people should never say at a funeral, but it's often heard anyway. Unfortunately, this merely helps you feel better while placing a burden on the mourner to think of something particular and then contact you. Instead, offer a practical and specific thing you can do.
  1. End with a thoughtful hope, wish, or sympathy expression. For example, you might include "You are in my thoughts" or "I will always be here to support you." Avoid using the usual one-word endings, such as "Sincerely," "Love," or "Fondly," which aren't quite as personal.

A Sample Condolence Letter

Here is an outline of a condolence letter that uses the seven components shown above. You do not need to follow this template exactly, it's merely here to help you organize your thoughts. Feel free to reorganize, add, or delete these steps as you write your letter. Write from your heart and trust that whatever you include will be worth your time and effort to help the bereaved.

Dear _____________,

1. Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name.
I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of _____________.

2. Express your sympathy.
I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for you now, but please trust that I care about you.

3. Note one or more of the deceased's special qualities.
____________ was such a kind, gentle soul. He would do anything to help improve the life of a child.

4. Include your favorite memory.
I remember the time that _________________.

5. Remind the bereaved of his or her personal strengths and/or special qualities.
I cannot imagine how much you will miss _______________ and you've always seen the best in everyone you know because of your generous heart.

6. Offer to help the survivor in a specific way.
Perhaps you could use your scrapbooking talent to make a lasting memory book of _________________? If you would like, I can come over on Tuesday evening to help you make the scrapbook. I have some wonderful pictures of _______________ that I'd love to share with you, as well as several personal memories of how he helped children.

7. End with a thoughtful hope, wish, or sympathy expression.
I will always be here to support you,

[Sign your name] _____________________ 

The Components of a Condolence Note

As noted above, a handwritten sympathy note is merely a shorter form of a condolence letter. It can prove just as meaningful to the bereaved and is a nice touch to include inside a sympathy card. 

When writing a condolence note, you should pick just a few elements from the seven steps above. For example, you might use the following:

  1. Acknowledge the loss and refer to the deceased by name.
  2. Express your sympathy.
  3. Note one or more of the deceased's special qualities that come to mind.
  4. End with a thoughtful hope, wish, or sympathy expression.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that this advice merely provides a guide to help you write a condolence letter or note. Ultimately, the unique nature of who you are and your relationship with the deceased or the surviving loved one will determine what you write. Thus, you can use all, a few, or none of the components shown above in your sympathy letter. The most important thing is that you write from your heart.

Edited by Chris Raymond

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