Friday, September 28, 2012

How to Write a Sympathy Note

The little excerpt above is from a 1950s writing pamphlet called, "It's fun to write letters!" (which I wrote a little about in this post) by Eaton Paper Company.  I like the description it gives of a sympathy letter as a "warm and understanding handclasp."

When I write a sympathy note, I try to remember these things:

Use plain language (write like I would talk and try not to overstate).
Keep it simple (since I tend to be a little wordy, I have to remember that less is more). 
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 these "rules"--

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 as well.  If you would like some more advice on the best way to communicate your sympathy, 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 profound. They just want to know that you’re thinking of them and feeling for them."

I offer all of this information because it has helped to give me perspective as I think through the best way to communicate sympathy.  But let me encourage you that you shouldn't be paranoid as you write, afraid to say the wrong thing or trying to say all of the right things.  Keep it simple and sincere and 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," is often 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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