Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Write a Sympathy Note

“When a person is bereaved the simple, sincere expressions of sympathy you write are deeply felt and appreciated. At this time of withdrawal from the world, 
your letter can be a warm and understanding handclasp.”
--Eaton Paper Company, 1954

When someone we know is grieving, we wonder what we can possibly say or do to help.   I like the advice above from a little letter writing pamphlet published in 1954--keep your words simple and sincere and think of them as "a warm and understanding handclasp."   

There are no hard and fast rules to writing sympathy notes, and good advice abounds (see below), but when I write I try to remember these things:

Keep it simple (I have to remember that less is more). 

Use plain language (write like I would talk and try not to overstate).

Avoid possibly hurtful phrases (see some of the suggestions from the sources below).

Share a memory or kind words about the person (in the case of a death) if I knew the person.

And I try to follow this one "rule"--

Always write a sympathy note (this type of correspondence should be high on the priority list).  

It's never too late to write one.

Over the years I have read a lot on this topic, and a simple google search yields plenty of advice.  Here are some sources I have found to be helpful:

How to Write a Sympathy Note from Real Simple

How to Write: Sympathy Notes (from the European Paper Company; found via this post on the LWA blog)

The Art of Letter Writing:  The Sympathy Note from The Art of Manliness blog

I think this part in particular from The Art of Manliness is well-put:

"While the bad news is that there’s nothing you can write to take away a person’s pain, the good news is that the grieving friend knows this just as well as you do. They’re not expecting something profoundThey just want to know that you’re thinking of them and feeling for them."

All of this has helped to give me perspective as I think through the best way to communicate sympathy.  I would encourage you not to be fearful as you write, afraid to say the wrong thing, or overly ambitious, trying to say all of the right things.  

Instead, be more aware of the person to whom you are writing than of your writing itself.  The simplest "I am so sorry.  I am thinking of you," can often be the best.  Think of your words as "a warm and understanding handclasp" or a big hug, two things that are always welcome.  

Have you been the recipient of a meaningful sympathy note?  
What other suggestions would you give?  


  1. Been browsing for some nice condolence card messages or just any words to uplift and comfort people who are downhearted. I felt happy to have found this inspirational page of yours. These words are very nice. Thanks and keep sharing :)

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